This week I discovered that pasta has 2 celebrations: National Pasta Day in the U.S. and World Pasta Day in the European Union. (What about the rest of the world? And why not merge the celebrations into 1 day? All good questions, but for another time.) No matter, I’ve got 2 takes on pasta for you. Even if they are just kernels of inspiration rather than real recipes in the traditional sense, they can help pull you out of a pasta rut.
Today’s is an orzo side dish and Friday’s is a quick tomato-based sauce for main course pasta. (Today you get a bonus – orzo pasta tips, for those unfamiliar with this delightful little pasta shape.) Both recipes are vegetarian, but you can eat the first with poultry, meat or fish and add chopped meat to the second. The bottom line is that pasta is versatile.
I discovered orzo when my kids were young and it has been a staple side dish in our house ever since. We like it with chicken cutlets, simple fish or sliced steak.
Orzo Pasta Tips
- Orzo looks like rice when it is uncooked, but is really pasta.
- Its size and small shape makes orzo perfect as an alternative to rice or potatoes. I don’t find orzo appealing with a tomato-based sauce; it works better with oil or butter and a few additions to contrast with its taste and texture.
- Orzo is typically in the pasta section of your grocery store. There are a number of brands. I’ve used Trader Joe’s and Barilla among others. Although it is sold by the pound like other pastas, orzo packages are smaller than most other pasta packages and easy to miss on the shelf.
I’ve priced this simple orzo dish with an expensive cheese, parmigano reggiano, to demonstrate that you can “dress up” inexpensive pasta and make a more elegant dish with relatively little effort and cost. You can use much less expensive hard cheeses to bring the cost under $1 per serving. You can buy a simple non-electric grater for under $10. It’s a handy and inexpensive gadget. Cheese is much better when it is bought in chunks and freshly grated just before use.
Orzo with parsley, butter and grated cheese
Servings – 2 large side dish servings.
Total cost – $2.75/$1.38 per serving (using expensive cheese)
- ¾ cup (approx. 4 oz or ¼ of 1 pound package) orzo
- 2 -3 tablespoons finely chopped flat leaf parsley. Flat leaf is also called Italian parsley. As its name implies, its leaves are flatter than the curly leaf parsley you may know. When shopping, be careful as it looks a lot like fresh cilantro – you can smell the difference, so if you aren’t sure you’ve got parsley, take a whiff. It shouldn’t have much smell and definitely shouldn’t remind you of guacamole (which often uses fresh cilantro.) If you can’t find flat leaf, curly parsley is OK, just not as nice.
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 3 tablespoons (approx.1 ounce) grated Parmesan cheese or other hard Italian or Italian-style cheese such as Romano, plus additional for serving on side.
- Salt & pepper
- Chopping board
- Knife for chopping cheese and cutting butter
- Grater and bowl for cheese
- Pot for boiling water
- Colander or strainer for draining water from orzo
- Large spoon for stirring
- Serving bowl
- Chop parsley. Set aside.
- Grate cheese. Set aside.
- Boil water.
- When water gets to a rolling boil, add orzo and cook, stirring several times until done, approximately 8-9 minutes. Water should remain at a boil while the orzo cooks. Although most pasta directions call for 4-6 quarts of water, I follow Harold McGee’s method and used just 1½ quarts of water for almost a cup of dried orzo.
- Immediately drain orzo.
- Add parsley, butter, cheese, salt and pepper and stir.
Serve with additional cheese on the side.