Please Play With Your Orzo
In just a matter of days, kids of all ages are headed back to school, an exciting rite of passage for kindergarteners and college freshmen alike. I always loved the smell of a new lunchbox, the anticipation of meeting new teachers and making new friends, the shopping for new school supplies. Everything is new and seems fresh, at least for a little while.
All this reminiscing has me thinking about school lunches -- and what we can do at home to make them more interesting, tastier and yes, healthier.
You know how it seems like every kid goes through a phase of eating plain noodles with butter and/or shredded cheese? I want to build upon that noodle-y foundation, add a few tweaks and turn it into a dish that all students of life would embrace.
I'm talking about orzo, the cute little pasta that looks and acts like rice. It also straddles the borders of Italy and Greece, finding its way into both cuisines, in soups, stews as well as rice-like sides. In Italian, orzo means "barley," referring to its shape, but I like the reference to the word "manestra" which is Greek for cantaloupe seeds, which seems a more accurate description.
To make things even more confusing, there's another rice-shaped pasta called riso, the very same word for plain old rice. Capisce?
The chameleon quality of orzo, however, is exactly what makes it so appealing, particularly if you turn it into a salad. Unlike other pasta salads which tend to be bulky and uneven in flavor, orzo has the benefit of a slim shape and size, which makes for a more refined, less gut-filling result.
And because of its rice shape, orzo requires far less saucing and vinaigrette-ing and welcomes more delicate, veg-heavy treatment -- as you may find in a pilaf. As a result, orzo makes a great portable lunch for those plain-noodle kids, without worry of reheating a mountain of spaghetti.
It had been many years since I cooked with orzo, and now I'm wondering why I waited so long. What a nice change! While the orzo boiled, I grated a zucchini and some onion for some time in a skillet with olive oil, along with some fresh oregano from the back yard for good measure.
As I combined the cooked orzo and shredded veggies, my improv nature kicked in, so I added some fresh basil as well as a handful of sun gold tomatoes sitting on the dining room table. It worked beautifully with the planked piece of salmon right off the grill, and there are plenty of orzo leftovers for a rockin' schoolhouse lunch. Race ya to the cafeteria...
Recipe below the jump.
Inspired by Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Olive oil, as needed
1/2 medium onion, grated on coarse edge
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 large zucchini, grated on coarse edge
fresh thyme or oregano (optional)
2 cups orzo pasta
salt to taste
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano
Squeeze of 1/2 lemon
Gather grated vegetables into a ball, with your hands, squeeze out water, until nearly dry.
Over medium heat, add enough olive oil to coat bottom of a skillet and heat for a minute. Add onion, garlic and zucchini, and with a wooden spoon, stir occasionally to minimize burning. Add herbs, if using, and cook until slightly golden; the mixture may even have a little crust. Turn off heat and add salt to taste.
Meanwhile, add water to a medium saucepan and bring up to a boil. Add salt and orzo, cooking until al dente, about 8 or 9 minutes.
Drain pasta and pour into a serving bowl. Add a spritz of olive oil for slickness, then cheese and cooked zucchini-onion mixture. Stir until well combined, and taste for salt and pepper. Add lemon.
Serve at room temperature or cold. Makes four or five side-dish servings.
By Kim ODonnel |
August 13, 2007; 11:38 AM ET
School Lunch Rock
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