It’s April and coming up on First Communion time at Saint Anthony church, the Catholic church where I grew up, heck, where we all grew up. Tommy and Pamela were baptized there, all four of us made our First Communions there and Cynthia and Pamela were married there. As an adult I discovered the beauty of Sunday’s 7:30 a.m. mass. No organ playing, (I can’t stand organ music), no shrieking children’s choir, but more importantly, blessed anonymity. There’s nothing worse than going to that cocktail party called “10:30 Mass”, looking out at your fellow parishioners and thinking, “Jesus H. Christ. What does she have on? I mean really. Don’t tell me she looked in the mirror and thought, “Now this is the look I want. I am ready now.”. That little voice inside me scolds, “What are you doing? You are in the house of the Lord. Of our Lord. Stop it.” Back and forth it goes, so it’s really best if I go to the 7:30 service. I stand in the very back… I lean against the confessionals and take in the cool quiet, the beautiful wood of the beamed ceiling and the sun streaming through the original stained glass windows, colors dancing and splashing onto terrazzo floors. I think, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been 12 years since my last confession. Hope you packed a lunch.”. Those same confessional doors were there when I made my First Communion.
Dad would take Cynthia and me to confession every Friday night, around five or six. And, sometimes after confessing, IF we had had dinner, he would take us down to the beach to a little shack where they would make fresh, hot waffles from a little machine. Then, with a practiced hand, cut off a big slab of Neapolitan ice cream and sandwich it between the steaming hot waffles. Heaven. We’d always take his car, an Austin Healy, with the top down, and park in front of the church’s double doors where he would wait patiently until we came out. Cynthia was eight and I was six. Right after my First Communion I went on a typical Friday night to confession, stood in line outside the confessionals, and then, when it was my turn, went in, and knelt down. A little muslin panel was pulled across a window so only a blurry profile was seen. I began, “Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been one week since my last confession. And my sins are…” I can only imagine what my sins were since I was only six. I didn’t even steal change out of my mother’s purse. What, I talked back when it was my turn to set the table? I didn’t make my bed? I called somebody the positively worst word I knew… SKUNK? Whatever my sins were, I confessed. I knew I had been stained by original sin, thanks to Adam and Eve, but I never dreamed I had committed mortal sin. I didn’t really feel it was just to throw me into the venial category either. But that was the first time I felt the skies had parted and God’s wrath had been hurled down directly at me. That man, that priest, whoever he was, bellowed from the other side of the curtain, “YOU WHAT? YOU HAVE SINNED! YOU ARE A SINNER AND YOU HAVE SINNED!”. The huge, thunderous voice rained down on me until I drowned in absolute terror. No one had ever raised their voice at me, at us. Not my parents, not a teacher, grandparents, neighbor, no one. I wanted to be an angel. I wanted to be holy. I was six. Six. I just crumbled. Huge, hot and uncontrollable tears spilled over. I slipped out of the confessional, didn’t even say my penance, and ran from the church. Cynthia was already in the car. She wasn’t much of a sinner so it didn’t take her very long. I don’t remember if I told my parents, but it shook me through and through. And, sadly, at that age, adults are always right, even when they’re wrong. The days rolled by and, once again, it was Friday, confession time. Cynthia hopped out of the car, brightly announcing, “I’ll be right back”. Yeah, we know. I didn’t get out of the car. My father asked, “Aren’t you going in?”. “No”, I answered. “Why not?” “I don’t want to.” “Okay.” Okay. That’s all he said. Okay. Gotta love that man. Week after week Daddy took us to confession and I stayed in the car. Then one Friday, Dad asked, “You going in?” Opening the door and answering at the same time I replied, “Yup.” I strolled right into St. Anthony’s and stood in line outside the confessionals. When it was my turn, I went into the confessional. And guess what?? Nothing happened. One Act of Contrition, two Hail Mary’s and an Our Father later, I had a brand new soul! AND…a waffle and ice cream sandwich.
This is the dinner I would have liked to have had on a Friday night instead of Mama’s hour-long baked fish. It is so light and savory, the flavors compliment each other well yet surprise with their lingering tones. The dish is quite flexible, any small shaped pasta works great. There is a little chopping, but, hey, you will be rewarded handsomely with clever and discerning compliments and your family will love you even more. In place of shrimp you could use scallops or squid rings. And goat cheese or any soft, crumbling cheese that marries with the acid of the lemon and tomato could be put to use rather than feta. It’s what you like. It’s a pretty dish and works well for a buffet or to serve a large number of people. The lemon, fresh oregano and feta are insanely good together but if you wanted to dress the dish up a bit, a splash or two of Armagnac or ouzo will do the trick, added when you mix the tomatoes into the sauce. I have to confess, it’s truly superb!
Baked Orzo with Lemon, Shrimp and Feta Cheese
- 1/2 pound small shaped pasta, such as orzo
- 1 pound large shrimp, shelled, deveined and cut into bite sized pieces
- 2 cups crumbled feta, crumble it yourself. Don’t buy that already crumbled garbage. Really.
- 1 large bunch flat leaf parsley, washed, dried and chopped
- 1 bunch fresh oregano, leaves chopped
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 4 or 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 large lemon, zested and juiced
- 1 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes, rough chopped with juices
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- Bring a large pot of water up to a boil for your pasta and cook pasta to box directions.
- While the pasta cooks and adding the feta last, add the remaining ingredients to a large bowl and mix to combine. Add the feta, lightly mixing so as not to completely break up the cheese.
- When the pasta is al dente, drain and put back into pot. Add all the ingredients from the bowl. Stir to combine.
- Pour into a baking dish prepared with non stick spray. I use a 4-quart or 11″ X 13″ baking dish.
- Spray a large piece of tin foil with non-stick spray and cover baking dish tightly, crimping edges and corners to keep the moisture in.
- Bake 30-45 minutes.