There is a school of thought that traditional food is just that; it’s traditional and should definitely not be messed around with. Sometimes a new version of a classic dish can seem pretentious and, just trying a bit too hard. Then, on the other hand, a bit of imagination can turn an everyday recipe into something truly special. ‘Kritharóto’ is a new version of that old favourite, ‘youvétsi’, and I think it really works. Youvétsi is made with ‘kritharáki’ – that’s the rice-shaped pasta that the Italians call orzo. Whereas youvetsi is oven-cooked, kritharóto uses the same stove-top technique as risotto.
There is nothing new about a seafood youvétsi, but with the oven method it can be tricky to acheive the sweet-spot ; that is not over-cooking the delicate prawns and shellfish but getting the pasta cooked just al dente. The risotto technique is much more reliable and just finishing off the cooking in the oven is enough. The key is to have a good flavoursome fish-based stock and some fine shellfish – personally, I prefer not to add squid to the mix. Ordinary orzo is perfectly fine, but if you can get your hands on the sepia ink variety, you will have a truly magical dish.
500 gm large prawns, with heads and shells
400gm fresh clams – or a mix of clams and mussels
1 leek, sliced thinly
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 bulb fennel, sliced thinly – reserve any of the feathery fronds for serving
2 – 3 medium tomatoes, grated or finely chopped
4 tablespoonfuls olive oil
100 ml ouzo or dry white wine
750 ml fish or vegetable stock.
500 gm orzo – preferably sepia orzo
Salt – pepper
First things first, prepare the prawns -carefully remove the heads and shells but do keep them to put in the stock. You can keep a few of the prawns whole, if you want.
Scrub the clams and rinse well and put to one side with the shelled prawns.
Heat the oven to 190 degrees.
Heat the fish or vegetable stock in a saucepan, and add the prawn heads and shells. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for about 10 minutes. Remove the shells and heads and discard them.
In a medium sized oven-proof casserole, heat the olive oil, add the chopped leek, garlic and fennel and cook for about 10 minutes over a moderate heat, stirring frequently. Cook until it is very soft.
Increase the heat and then add the ouzo or wine and cook for a few minutes.
Now add the orzo, stirring all the time to ensure each grain is mixed in. Add the grated/chopped tomato, season with some salt and pepper.
Reduce the heat and slowly start to add the warm stock, a ladleful at a time , stirring continuously.
When the pasta is about half cooked, add the prawns and clams and bury them in the orzo. If the mixture is a bit dry, add some more stock or water. Check the seasoning. Once the clams just start to open put the casserole in the oven and cook at 190 degrees for about 10 – 15 minutes, making sure that the prawns don’t overcook.
Remove from the oven, sprinkle with the finely chopped fennel fronds and serve.
Orzo with sepia – http://amaltheadeli.co.uk/product/orzo-with-seafood-mix/