Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Because Orzo is My Obsession

Ahhhhh orzo. The little bitty rice shaped pasta that I love so much. It's soooooo cute and so versatile. I like to use it as often as I can, and lately, it hasn't been all that often. But I've been in a creative kind of mood in the kitchen lately and leaning towards regional Italian dishes. Not your every day spaghetti and meatballs stuff either. Different pastas, sauces, using more vegetables, the sort of things I might find if I were shopping at a market in Italy.....

I miss shopping in Europe!
I've made a similar dish before with chicken sausage and cannellini beans and it was delicious. So much so that my fiance chef "stole" it from me and featured it as a special in the restaurant and the entree during a beer pairing meal. This time I'm going for a casserole type dish that's fresher and lighter than lasagna, and much easier to throw together. I am sauteing chicken for this dish but I could just as easily see this as a great way to shrimp. But then again, I've never met a shrimp I didn't like! 

Imagine shopping at this awesome meat market!
This dish comes together very quickly, with the chicken being the most labor intensive part, and honestly, it's not all that taxing to cut up and saute some chicken cubes or slices. I like slices, like you'd use in a stir fry, but that's just me. Let's get working on this easy to put together casserole style dish with a Tuscan twist-

Tuscan Baked Chicken and Orzo

1 cup orzo pasta
1 pound boneless chicken
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
4 or 5 green onions, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 cups chicken broth (plus more if needed)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
handful sun dried tomatoes, chopped
couple handfuls baby spinach (stems removed)

Cut chicken into bite-size pieces. I made the "budget friendly" decision to buy bone-in skin-on chicken thighs and spent more time prepping the chicken than the entire rest of the recipe takes to prepare. Not doing that again! In large skillet heat the olive oil and butter until sizzling. Add chicken and cook, stirring often, until browned and mostly cooked. Remove chicken to bowl and set aside. Melt additional 3 tb butter in pan, add onion and garlic and cook briefly until softened. Add chicken stock to skillet, stirring and scraping up the tasty bits on the bottom. Add Parmesan cheese, tomatoes, spinach, orzo and chicken. Spoon into 11x7 baking dish. Bake in 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes to an hour, until heated and bubbly and orzo is cooked. You may need to add extra broth if the orzo absorbs too much- check about halfway through cooking time. This recipe makes the perfect amount for dinner for two but is easily doubled for a family. You may need to adjust the baking time. 

Note- You can use leftover cooked chicken also, but you would still want to brown it in the oil and butter- it really brings some good flavor to the dish.

So now that dinner is on the table, we need to think about sides. I think this dish pairs perfectly with a plate of sliced fresh tomatoes. No adornments or fancy dressings- maybe a little drizzle of balsamic vinegar and a very small sprinkle of chiffonade of basil. A pinch of sea salt. Some good rustic crusty bread. A nice glass of crisp Pinot Grigio. 

Close your eyes and envision that little village in Tuscany, that sidewalk bistro.......

****Pics from Italy courtesy of Deberah Tedesco-Roberts. She was gracious enough to share pictures from her recent vacation. Yes, I am jealous.

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