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This orzo pilaf is a simple — and hearty — side dish

Savory Orzo Pilaf is made with mushrooms, pine nuts, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor1 / 4
Mushrooms, garlic and shallots are sauteed in butter and olive oil. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 4
Parmesan cheese is mixed into Savory Orzo Pilaf before serving. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor3 / 4
Pine nuts are toasted for Savory Orzo Pilaf. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor4 / 4

FARGO — I’m always looking for easy ways to incorporate vegetables into our meal plan, and this Savory Orzo Pilaf combines pasta with mushrooms, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes for a side dish that is hearty, delicious and good for you.

A pilaf is simply a pasta or grain that has been cooked in broth or stock to bring extra flavor to the dish. This is one of my favorite ways to prepare grains or small pasta like orzo, the rice-shaped noodle that is the base of this dish.

For this recipe, the orzo is cooked in beef broth, which gives it a rich flavor, making it the perfect accompaniment for red meats like beef, lamb and bison, as well as seasoned meats like Italian sausage or bratwurst. Mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes both have bold flavors; thus I chose beef broth versus chicken, but either will work for this recipe.

Before adding the broth, I toast the orzo first in olive oil over medium heat, which gives it a wonderfully nutty flavor and golden tone. To make the orzo pilaf, I cook it the same way I do other grains like rice, farro and barley, all of which could be used instead of pasta.

Instead of boiling a pot of water and adding the pasta, after toasting the orzo I add just 2 cups of stock, along with a bay leaf for added flavor, and bring it to a boil. Then, I cover the pot and let it simmer over low heat for about eight minutes, until most of the liquid has been absorbed.

Next, I stir in a generous amount of baby spinach leaves and sun-dried tomatoes, and cook the pasta for a minute or two more, just until the spinach begins to wilt. If using dry sun-dried tomatoes (versus oil-packed), I like to drizzle them with a bit of olive oil and let them hydrate for 10 to 15 minute before adding.

As the orzo simmers, I prepare the mushrooms in a separate pan so that they are ready to add as soon as the orzo is done. For maximum flavor, I cook the mushrooms with minced shallots and garlic in a mix of butter and olive oil just until the mushrooms are tender, which only takes about five to six minutes.

The cooked orzo mix and mushrooms are then tossed together, and then I add in some toasted pine nuts for an extra boost of flavor and texture. I finish the dish with a drizzle of olive oil and a half cup of grated Parmesan cheese, which brings a wonderful creaminess to the pasta and more nutty flavor.

This dish can be served immediately or even prepared a day or two in advance, which gives the flavors time to meld together. It can be served warm or at room temperature, and sometimes I’ll add a splash of red wine vinegar to give a little zest.

Easy to make, nutritious and delicious, this Savory Orzo Pilaf is a perfect weeknight side dish that can be on your table in under 30 minutes. Enjoy.

Savory Orzo Pilaf

Serves: 6 to 8

Ingredients

1/3 cup pine nuts

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 heaping cup orzo

2 cups beef broth

1 bay leaf

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

4 cups baby spinach leaves

½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large shallot, minced (about ½ cup)

5 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Kosher salt

Black pepper

Directions

In a small pan over medium heat, toast the pine nuts until lightly golden and fragrant, about 6 to 8 minutes; set aside to cool.

In a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the orzo and cook for two minutes, stirring often, until lightly golden. Add the beef broth, bay leaf and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally.

Reduce heat to medium-low, cover the pot and simmer for 8 minutes, until the orzo is al dente and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Make sure to stir occasionally to prevent the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Stir in the spinach leaves and sun-dried tomatoes and continue cooking just until the spinach begins to wilt, about 1 to 2 more minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium or large pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and cook for one minute. Reduce to medium heat and add the shallots, mushrooms and crushed red pepper.

Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring often, until the shallots become translucent and the mushrooms start to soften. Add the garlic and continue cooking over medium heat until the mushrooms are tender, stirring often, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove pan from burner.

Add the mushroom mixture and toasted pine nuts to the orzo and stir to incorporate. Add the Parmesan cheese and remaining tablespoon of olive oil and stir until well combined. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired. Serve immediately. Leftovers may be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days; serve warm or at room temperature.

“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.

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