Fill-in-the-blank Orzo

30 November, 2009 at 10:00 pm Leave a comment

This is one of my new favorite weeknight meals.  It is extremely adaptable to whatever you have on hand (the two most recent times I’ve made it, the results have been extremely different but both equally delicious), it’s quick, and insofar as I’ve tested it, it seems to be impossible to mess up!

Normally, I’m not a huge fan of orzo.  I don’t mind it in soup, but in other circumstances I’ve always found it sort of lacking, and certainly one of the least interesting options in the pasta department.  But somehow it works perfectly with this recipe, tossed up with whatever else you choose to include.  I’ve tried it with bacon, and I’ve tried it with chicken, and I have a sneaking suspicion that there are quite a few other protein options that would suit it well–prosciutto or pancetta would step it up a notch, and I daresay tofu, perhaps marinated before cooking, would work well in it too. Plus, if you build yourself a nice strong vegetable presence, this dish would definitely work with no protein at all, either a main dish or as a veggie and pasta side dish to accompany some other protein.

As for vegetables, your choices there are equally variable.  One of the things I appreciate about this dish is that, whether you mean to or not, when you make it at different times of the year, it tends to reflect what’s seasonal and delicious at the moment.  When I made it over the summer, I used zucchini, spinach, and cherry tomatoes fresh from the farmer’s market.  When I made it last week, I used some fresh broccoli and some little forlorn zucchinis hanging around in my fridge, and it turned out equally fabulous (if a little less colorful).

Fill-in-the-blank Orzo
Adapted from Orzo with Summer Vegetables and Bacon from The Kitchn
Serves 3

1 cup orzo
2-4 strips of bacon (depending on what you have and how much you like bacon), chopped
-OR- 1 large boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into chunks
-OR- 4-6 slices of prosciutto or pancetta, chopped
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
Red pepper flakes, to taste (about 1 t)
Up to 3 cups vegetables: here I’ve used 1 large zucchini, and one head of broccoli, but I’ve also tried it with a couple of sliced zucchini, about 1/2 cup of halved cherry tomatoes, and 1 cup of spinach
1/3 cup water, if your veggies need to steam
A few leaves of fresh basil, chiffonaded or chopped
Salt and pepper
1 handful parmesan cheese, 1/4 – 1/2 cup depending on your taste

Set a large pot of salted water to boil for your orzo.  While it’s coming to the boil, begin by browning your meat over medium high heat in a large skillet– if you’re using bacon, add the chopped pieces and cook until lightly browned, and if you’re using chicken, add 1 T of vegetable oil first and then brown the chunks.  When browned, add onion and cook until slightly softened, then add garlic and cook 1 minute more, until fragrant.  When water boils, add orzo and cook according to package directions, generally 9-11 minutes.  When al dente, drain and set aside–add a couple drops of olive oil to prevent sticking.

When your meat, onions and garlic have taken on a bit of color, add red pepper flakes to taste, then add chopped vegetables in order of length of cooking time–I put in the broccoli and zucchini at the same time, but for a summer version you should start by putting in the zucchini, and just throw the tomatoes and spinach in near the end, when you throw in the orzo.  If you are using veggies that need to steam a bit, add in 1/3 cup water at this point, stir, cover the skillet and cook until vegetables are tender.

When veggies are softened, remove lid and stir in quick-cooking veggies, if using (tomatoes, spinach, arugula, etc), the drained orzo, and your basil, and stir.  Then season with salt and pepper, and add parmesan.  Remove from heat and stir until parmesan has melted.  Serve!

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