I like rice and I like pasta, so orzo is like a marriage of my favorite starches. I love it tossed together with chopped fresh veggies, black olives and Mediterranean vinaigrette for a side salad in the summer when we’re grilling. The rest of the year I tend to ignore those cute little pasta grains. Then I ran across an interesting recipe.
I’ve never made orzo as a warm side dish, but I was making cod with a lemon caper sauce and adding asparagus and peas with a light parmesan cream sauce sounded like a good pairing. It would be like my favorite summer salad, warmed because it’s cold outside. It was snowing the last week of March and warm food was still necessary.
Toasting the orzo in a little butter in a skillet was the first step. I may have browned the orzo a little more than suggested, but it turned out delicious, without any scorched or burnt flavor. I’d say it was toasted just right!
I had a saucepan of lightly salted boiling water ready, and added the orzo to the pot. I set the timer for 6 minutes, and added the asparagus and peas for the last few minutes.
When the orzo was done al dente, I drained it and put it back into the saucepan. I added the cream and Parmesan and stirred well. I put a lid on the saucepan and let it sit while I made the rest of the dinner.
Plated, the orzo dish was beautiful. The taste was even better. The cream and cheese tied together the veggies and orzo with simple flavors that worked very well together. There wasn’t a heavy sauce feeling to it, just a lighter brush of zesty cheese. I served it with pan seared cod that had a sauce with a riot of flavors, so the orzo on the side wasn’t fighting it for dominance.
Toasted orzo was a great idea, and one I’d make again. Other seasonal vegetables could be used as well, to have a change of flavors. Zucchini, grilled corn, cherry tomatoes and spinach are just a few that come to mind.
Creamy Orzo with Asparagus and Peas
1 cup orzo
1 cup asparagus; ends snapped and cut into 1″ pieces
1 cup frozen peas
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup parmesan; shredded
Bring 1 quart lightly salted water to boil in a saucepan.
In a large nonstick skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium high heat. Toast dry orzo in skillet until it is lightly browned. Pour into boiling water and set timer for 6 minutes.
At 6 minutes, add asparagus and peas to orzo saucepan. Boil for 3-4 minutes more, until orzo is done to desired texture. I like it a little bit al dente still.
Drain orzo and return to saucepan. Reduce heat to low and stir in ½ cup heavy cream and ½ cup shredded parmesan. Taste test for salt and black pepper, adding as desired.
2 good sized servings; 4 smaller servings
Adapted from Sugar and Spice.