Originally created 11/10/99

Casserole gets a gourmet touch



They say variety is the spice of life, but sometimes I think my husband, Bond, would disagree.

Sure, there are advantages to being married to someone who tests recipes for a living. There's always something cooking, and you get to be the king taste tester. But, as Bond will tell you, having a different meal every night isn't all it's cracked up to be. Especially when your old favorites haven't graced the menu in over a year.

That's the story of today's recipe for baked shrimp with feta cheese.

Years ago, when I worked as a features writer for The Chronicle, I wrote an article about cooking videos. At the time, VCRs were just becoming popular, and there weren't many videos on the market. In fact, cooking programs on public television were just beginning to become popular.

Martha Stewart, who I interviewed by phone, was working on a tape to go with her Weddings book, and New York Times food columnist Craig Claiborne had a video that was just released. Julia Child also was working on a video series as a companion to her The Way to Cook book.

The Claiborne video included many recipes that have remained in my repertoire, including a wonderful and complicated chocolate mousse cake. But the favorite dish we tried was a simple casserole of tomatoes, shrimp and capers, topped with crumbled feta cheese.

I've changed the dish a bit from the original, which Claiborne called Girades mi Feta. Eliminating several steps in the preparation, along with the butter originally included, makes his simple dish even easier to prepare, yet the final results are just as delicious.

The dish begins by briefly sauteing chopped garlic, dried oregano and red pepper flakes in olive oil. Adding the spices in the beginning along with the garlic allows them to become aromatic and more flavorful.

Canned peeled and diced tomatoes are added and simmered for a few minutes to reduce the liquid. Then, drained capers are added and the sauce is layered in a casserole with peeled and deveined raw shrimp. The casserole is topped with crumbled feta and bakes in the oven for about 20 minutes, until the shrimp are done.

Using already peeled shrimp, either peeled by your supermarket's seafood department or purchased peeled and frozen, saves a tremendous amount of time when preparing this dish. Be sure not to use cooked peeled shrimp in this recipe, or your result will be a dish that includes tough, chewy shrimp.

This is a dish that illustrates the effectiveness of cooking over high heat to quickly reduce and thicken a sauce, a technique that is routinely used in restaurant kitchens. The undrained tomatoes are added and the sauce is simmered at a rapid boil for about five minutes, until about a third of the liquid has evaporated and the sauce has become thicker.

Serve your shrimp as an easy, yet elegant entree when entertaining, increasing the amount to serve the number of guests. The sauce can be made ahead, then reheated briefly before layering it with the shrimp and baking.

A green salad and some crusty bread are all you'll need to make this into one of Bond's favorite meals.

Baked Shrimp with Feta Cheese

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 28-ounce can peeled and diced tomatoes

1 3.25-ounce jar capers, drained

1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp

4 ounces crumbled feta cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add olive oil, garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes. Saute briefly, without allowing the garlic to brown, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, stirring well, and bring to a boil. Cook at a rapid simmer, stirring frequently, until juices are reduced and sauce is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Add capers and season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Spread half of the sauce in a baking dish and top with the shrimp. Top with remaining sauce and sprinkle with the crumbled feta. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, until bubbling hot and shrimp are pink.

Makes 4 servings.

Karin Calloway is a Web chef for Viking Range Corp. (www.vikingrange.com) and a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. You can write her in care of Newsroom, The Augusta Chronicle, P.O. Box 1928, Augusta, GA 30913. Or send her an email to karingca@aol.com.