Monday, April 5, 2010

Orzo Perfection

I promised you delicious, and I have delivered.

I just made the best orzo dish E V E R!!!
I really like orzo in general. I think it is an under-utilized form of pasta. I have also never been a big fan of rice, and don't really understand the draw of risotto. Whenever a creamy risotto has been described with lots of tasty ingredients, I just wish they'd made the dish with pasta instead. Because pasta is ALWAYS better than rice. No. NO! It just is. Give it up.
Pasta rules.
So what could be better than pasta that LOOKS like rice, but is in fact, still pasta?
At least when it comes to a side-dish.

WARNING: It may be impossible to stop eating this, so bear that in mind for portion control.

So, this orzo dish I made up totally off the cuff, having seen a recipe for orzo w/ ricotta and lemon zest. That's it. Just 2 ingredients. I decided I could do better.
WAY better.
Sure, it could be a side dish, but I made it as a simple main dish for a night in which dinner never really happened. And as soon as I tasted it I tried to write down what I did because Mike and I both thought it was so damned tasty. I really hope I can recreate it again.

So here's the rundown:
Obviously, boil and salt water, drop orzo (I was working with about 1/2 a cup... what was left in the box.) Cook 11 min or whatever your box tells you.

I put about 2 tablespoons of evoo in a sauce pan, and grated one large clove of garlic into the oil, on very low heat, and let that cook up a bit. Maybe 2-3 minutes. Just as the color shifts from white to soft gold.
Next I put in a splash of white wine. Maybe 4 tablespoons worth. I let that simmer on medium heat for about a minute to reduce a bit.
Add half to a whole teaspoon of dried thyme into the simmering garlic/oil/wine mixture, crushing it between your fingers/palms as you drop it.
Next, I lowered the heat back down to medium-low, and I added about 3 tablespoons of half & half/ cream (whatever is on hand), and stir to combine. At this point there is only just enough liquid to fully cover the bottom of the pan. I was creating a flavor base and thinning base for the cheese that is added next.
To the aromatic liquids in the pan, I added about 1/4 cup of ricotta cheese. Stir until it become smooth and creamy. *This photo is actually of mascarpone... see below.
Add the zest of half of one lemon. Stir again. Season with salt to taste.
(If you want a bit more salt and cheese, you can stir in a little less than 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano, but I think it is better in its sweet and lemony form.)

Two minutes before the orzo was done cooking, I dropped a couple handfuls of frozen baby peas into the boiling water as well. Their sweetness helps to offset the richness of the sauce.
(Making this yet again the other night, I thought about using drained frozen spinach, but realized the fresh sweetness of the peas is just a better choice for this.)
When the timer goes off, drain well and add to the melted cheese mixture. Stir to combine, and then pour that creamy concoction into one big soup bowl, or divide between 2 people as a side-dish.

I did this completely off the cuff, so use your own judgement as you go as far as proportions and seasonings.
Important: do not try to make this more "figure friendly" by using part-skim ricotta. It will not melt properly for you. Just think of it as your calcium boost of the day.
In fact, to make it even more decadent, swap in some Italian mascarpone cheese instead of ricotta. It will be the creamiest, most indulgent sauce you have ever tasted.

And don't forget, it's got peas! So there is something good for you in it! Other than calcium and taste buds doing a dance of ultimate joy!!!

This was seriously so tasty that the hubs actually said, "Mmm, this is the best ice cream ever!" because while it is a savory dish, some aspect of it (probably the richness from the ricotta/mascarpone) makes you feel like you are also eating a dessert.

So there you go. Creamy ricotta orzo with peas. Also another super fast meal if you're looking for something comforting and you don't feel like making a whole protein+veg+starch meal.


Melissa's Espresso Shot said...

Sounds good. I've never worked with orzo before but I'm thinking of giving it a try now. Thanks.

Claire Marie said...

It looks AMAZING. I love orzo too.

Chuck said...

Now I'm hungry! Thanks for whetting my appetite!

Erin said...

Thank you for telling me what orzo is. Honestly, I never knew it was pasta. I live in Oklahoma. We don't eat rice or pasta. We eat potatoes. Thanks for expanding my horizons!