A good casserole is pure comfort food. And there are, I know, a million versions of casseroles out there, so coming up with new and unique versions is a welcome challenge for a recipe developer.
So here’s my process for creating a recipe like this. I wanted to do something different – still a rich, creamy casserole, but with a twist. First I thought rice or noodles? Which led me to orzo, the small rice shaped pasta. Orzo, for some reason, always puts me in mind of Greek and Mediterranean food, and that made me think of lemons, much like one of my favorites, Greek Lemon Rice Soup. And of course, keeping with the Greek theme, feta cheese was an obvious ingredient.
So I started to work out in my mind a recipe with orzo, lemon, feta cheese, herbs and chicken. Frankly, I had just finished my testing on another chicken casserole (recipe coming soon!), and didn’t really want to repeat myself, then the idea of using shrimp popped into my head. And with shrimp, I thought dill would be a bright herbal addition in keeping with the sunny Mediterranean profile. A quick shuffle through the ingredient library in my head led me to capers, to add a salty, briny note and a bit of texture.
That’s how these things work out with me. I wanted to create a creative casserole perfect for family meals or entertaining, and one thought led to another. And I am very pleased with the results, I think this dish meets all my points, unique, comforting packed with flavor and a change-up from the standards.
Greek Shrimp and Orzo Bake with Lemon and Dill
1-1/2 cups orzo pasta
1/4 cup butter
2 cloves of garlic, minced
zest of two lemons, divided
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3-1/2 cups whole milk
8 ounces crumbled feta cheese, divided
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
3 tablespoons capers, drained
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined, thawed if frozen (18 to 20 count)
1. Cook the orzo according to the package directions, reducing the cooking time by one minute. Drain and rise thoroughly with cold water.
2. Spray a 9- by 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
3. Melt the butter in a large pot over medium high heat, then add the minced garlic and the zest of one lemon. Cook for two minutes until fragrant, then sprinkle over the flour.
4. Cook stirring, until the flour is pale and smooth. Gradually pour in the milk, whisking all the while, and cook until the sauce is thickened and smooth. Whisk in the nutmeg and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir in half of the feta and remove the pan from the heat.
5. Stir in the remaining lemon zest, dill and oregano. Add the capers and the lemon juice and stir until well combined. Stir in the cooked orzo until it is completely separated and coated in the sauce. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.
6. Rinse the shrimp and pat them dry with paper towels then add to the warm sauce. Stir until everything is combined and well coated with sauce. The shrimp will just begin to turn pink in the warm sauce.
7. Spoon the casserole into the prepared dish and sprinkle the remaining feta cheese over the top. The casserole can be cooled, covered and refrigerated at this point for several hours.
8. When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F., and bake until heated through and bubbling around the edges, about 30 minutes. Turn on the broiler for a few minutes to brown the feta cheese on top if you would like
Notes: Personally, I prefer leaving the shrimp whole, but you may cut them in half before adding to the casserole if you prefer.
Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Greek lemon and rice soup