Recipe: Cheesy Orzo with Cherry Tomatoes and Basil

As I’ve said in some of my past few posts, I’ve been trying hard to work on planning meals in advance for the week rather than picking recipes throughout the week and shopping along the way. I’ve already pretty much mastered the art of “Chopped: Refrigerator Edition,” or that ability to take random ingredients from the fridge and pull them together to make a meal (like a less intense version of the show, Chopped, where contestants are given a basket of ridiculously mismatched ingredients and asked to make meals). Between work and looking for work (did I mention I’m planning to move to Memphis by the end of the summer?) this week, I only had time to try out two new recipes (and though I planned and shopped accordingly, I still failed at groceries because I went shopping while hungry…Hello, frozen soft pretzels and Ben&Jerry’s S’Mores!). Anywho, this orzo recipe was the first I made and I was quite happy with the results. Cheesy and comforting, this dish is a lot like if mac&cheese and rice pilaf had a baby—orzo (a type of pasta that looks an awful lot like big pieces of rice), grated Italian cheeses, fresh basil, and tart cherry tomatoes mix together to create a comforting and delicious side dish (add chicken or even shrimp for a complete meal).

Yields: 4 servings
Prep. time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 20-30 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

Ingredients

  • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1&1/2 cup orzo
  • 3 cups low sodium chicken stock
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated or shredded
  • 1/2 cup Pecorino-Romano cheese, grated or shredded
  • 10-15 leaves (large handful; approx. 2 packages of pre-packed) basil, chiffonade cut 
  • Butter and olive oil, as needed
  • Salt and pepper

Directions
Melt the butter in a medium pot over medium high heat. Add the uncooked orzo and saute in the butter until lightly golden brown, then add the chicken stock. Briefly bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 20-30 minutes, until little or no stock is remaining (drain excess stock if necessary; orzo should be al dente/tender yet firm when done). During the last 5-10 minutes the orzo is cooking, add a little butter and olive oil to a small pan over medium heat, then add the tomatoes and cook until their skins start to split a bit (they should be a little soft). When the orzo is done, add the cooked tomatoes, garlic, basil, cheeses, and salt and pepper and gently stir to combine. Serve as a side (top it with chicken or shrimp for a nice meal), or make into a hearty and comforting meal by adding chunks of sauteed chicken to the finished orzo. Or, if you’re me, just eat it as is! Who says it can’t be a meal in and of itself?
This dish is simple, quick to make, and quite tasty. The cheeses melt into the orzo, making the dish creamy and rich. Fresh basil and cherry tomatoes add a pop of flavor to balance out the creaminess of the cheese. Cooking the orzo in chicken stock rather than water adds great flavor to the dish. This is a perfect side dish, but it can be made into a main meal with the addition of some sort of protein (chicken, shrimp) or simply serve it as is for a comfort dish. 
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