Early in the spring, some cute little birds were driving us crazy. Keith and I sat in our office while they pecked away at the cedar shingles on our house, trying to puncture their way to a nest. We tried pounding on the windows, squirting them with water, and hanging a ridiculous, twirling butterfly windsock in failed attempts to scare them away. Ultimately we prevailed with a strand of red and silver flash tape strung along the eaves.
Midway in our plight, Keith built a little bird house and attached it to a tree outside our office window. We read that sometimes, if you provide a house, the birds will abandon their destructive efforts. They didn’t show a hint of interest.
A wasted effort? As it turns out, no.
We’ve been spending more hours than we’d like in our office, pecking away at our keyboards. The other day we noticed this little guy snoozing on the roof.
When we’re working long hours, I lose motivation to cook new things and often lean on familiar dishes. But I couldn’t shake the urge to make a dish that Louisa, of The Wednesday Chef, posted recently - Diane Kochilas’ Tomato, Oregano and Feta Risotto. A few things intrigued me: fresh tomato in risotto, the combination of tomato and ouzo, and the swap of feta for Parmesan. The idea somersaulted in my mind, mixed with my unusual method for making risotto – short grain brown rice partially cooked instead of white arborio, and melded with a couple of other flavors I was craving.
When Louisa said this is a ‘flavor bomb’, she wasn’t kidding. Though I used water instead of broth as she mused, I added punch with briny kalamata olives and buttery rich prawns, so it hardly softened the blow. It’s the kind of meal where you relish every bite and finish utterly satisfied.
Tomato and Shrimp Risotto with Ouzo and Feta
1 cup short grain brown rice
1 pint ripe grape tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large shallots, finely chopped
1/2 cup warm water
1/3 cup ouzo (our favorite has a prominent, black #12 on the label)
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
zest of 1 lemon
1 pound peeled and deveined medium shrimp
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup slivered, fresh basil leaves
chive flowers for garnish (optional)
Partially cook short grain brown rice in a rice cooker or saucepan using 1/2 cup less liquid than called for on the package. Cook for about 10 minutes less than the package directs, leaving the rice slightly under-cooked. If you are using a rice cooker, use the white rice instead of brown rice setting.
Add tomatoes to the bowl of a food processor or blender pitcher and pulse until nearly pureed, leaving some small pieces; reserve.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots; cook and stir until slightly softened, about 2 minutes. Add partially cooked rice; cook and stir to coat with olive oil, about 1 minute. Add warm water and ouzo; stir until absorbed, about 3 minutes. Add pureed tomatoes; cook and stir until tomato has softened and liquid is absorbed, about 3 minutes. Add feta, kalamata olives, and lemon zest; cook and stir until feta has melted, about 1 minute. Add shrimp; cook and stir until shrimp is pink and cooked through, about 3 minutes. Check flavor; add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Transfer to serving platter and sprinkle with fresh basil and chive flowers if desired. Serve.