Orzo meets mint, peas and cheese

May 19, 2007|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Tribune Media Services

Like most cooks, when I decide to have a dinner party, I usually pick the main course first, then figure out the rest of the menu. Rarely does a side dish become the inspiration for a meal. This past week, however, after testing a recipe for buttered orzo tossed with peas, fresh mint and parmigiano-reggiano cheese, I changed my mind.

I was so excited about this delectable spring pasta and vegetable creation that I planned an entire menu around it for a coming dinner for friends.

Orzo, the oval-shaped pasta that looks like large grains of rice, can be cooked simply in boiling salted water for a few minutes until tender, then drained, tossed in butter and if desired, seasoned with some grated cheese such as parmesan. It can also be prepared like a rice pilaf where the pasta grains are coated in melted butter, then simmered in stock -- resulting, in my opinion, in a much more flavorful dish. It was this latter technique that I used for my company dinner.

When the orzo had cooked in the stock to the point that it was tender but not mushy (a slight shade beyond al dente), I added peas and sliced green onions and cooked these vegetables a couple of minutes more.

Although I used good-quality frozen peas (defrosted and drained), if you can find fresh peas, by all means use those instead. They will need 3 to 4 minutes cooking time, while the frozen ones will require only a couple of minutes. After the vegetables were done, chopped mint and grated parmesan were stirred into the pasta. Voila! In less than 20 minutes, I had a colorful dish brimming with color and bursting with flavor.

This versatile orzo could be partnered with any number of entrees. It would make a beautiful side to baked salmon, roast chicken or grilled skewered shrimp.

For my menu, I'm planning to pair it with grilled garlic-and-rosemary-rubbed lamb chops. An arugula salad tossed in lemon juice and olive oil will round out the main course, while strawberries and blueberries layered in wine glasses and topped with swirls of honey-scented whipped cream will make an easy finale.

Betty Rosbottom writes for Tribune Media Services.

Orzo With Peas, Mint and Parmesan

Serves 4

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups orzo (8 ounces)

2 1/2 cups reduced-sodium chicken stock

1 1/4 cups fresh or frozen green peas (defrosted)

1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions, including 2 inches of the green stems

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus 2 to 3 tablespoons extra for garnish

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, plus several sprigs for garnish

1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt

Heat the butter in a heavy, medium saucepan (with a lid) set over medium heat. When hot, add orzo and cook, stirring, 1 minute to coat the pasta with butter. Add the stock and bring the mixture to a simmer. Reduce heat, cover and cook at a simmer until almost all liquid has been absorbed, 6 to 8 minutes.

If using fresh peas, stir them into the orzo after it has cooked about 6 minutes, and cook 3 minutes. Then add green onions and cook 1 to 2 minutes more. If using frozen peas, stir them in along with the green onions and cook them together just to warm through, about 2 minutes. Stir in the cheese and mint. Then season mixture with salt.

Mound the orzo in a bowl and garnish the center with a few mint springs and sprinkle with extra parmesan.

Note: Orzo translates as "barley" in Italian but its common use is as a pasta. It is frequently added to soups or used on its own as a side dish. You can find it in the pasta section of the supermarket.

Per serving: 331 calories, 14 grams protein, 9 grams fat, 5 grams saturated fat, 50 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams fiber, 22 milligrams cholesterol, 966 milligrams sodium. Recipe analysis provided by registered dietitian Mary Mullen.

Menu

Orzo With Peas, Mint and Parmesan

Grilled lamb chops rubbed with garlic and rosemary

Arugula salad tossed in lemon juice and olive oil

Strawberries and blueberries with honey-scented whipped cream

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