Orzo is a complex pasta, not always given its due respect inside many of our households. In many American kitchens, orzo is the pasta you dig out of the cupboard when you need to make a pasta salad, but this small grain-like shaped pasta can be so much more.
Orzo, also known as 'Rossini' is a pasta traditionally used in Italian wedding soup. Orzo actually means "Barley" in Italian because the pasta resembles an unprocessed grain of barley.
Though created in Italy, the pasta became extremely popular in Greek cooking and spread throughout the Mediterranean as well as the Middle East. This makes it an extremely versatile pasta with cultural heritage in many different styles of cooking. You can stew Orzo with lamb and tomato sauce to make a traditional Greek dish called "Giouvetsi". Cook it with Chicken Stock and green chili to create Shurbat Lisan Asfour or "Birds Tongue Soup" traditionally served during Ramadan across West Africa and the Middle East. You can make paella or other basque dishes with the pasta in place of rice. In fact is has often been substituted for rice in certain pilaf dishes or casseroles creating a wholly new dish. For instance, in a previous post, we made an orzo risotto with shrimp skewers and asparagus, and it was really, really good.
Orzo is best when made with semolina flour because of its density and high protein content. If you have tried to make Orzo before and the pasta seemed to fall apart in the dish, it may have been made with too soft a flour. To make our orzo, we use Shephards Grain semolina flour, which carries the density we need to make a light and springy orzo that won't fall apart.
This week, instead of creating our own recipe with our pasta of the week, we decided to try out New York Times' Lemony Orzo with Asparagus and Garlic Bread Crumbs. The recipe did not disappoint. Find the entire recipe here
With just enough, crunch, texture, acidity, and melt in your mouth bread crumbs (the secret ingredient, plenty of olive oil) they had us going back for seconds.
Their recommendation to cut the asparagus just slightly larger than the cooked orzo made the two blend together in harmony. This may be a very important step when cooking with orzo. If you are blending ingredients with your orzo, make sure you are not overpowering the pasta with large pieces of other things. Make sure that the orzo is proportional to the other elements in your dish, if not in size, then in density. For instance, if you are cooking your orzo with whole chicken legs, you should make sure you are making enough pasta to compensate.
Orzo works well with fresh spring and summer flavors, like mint, asparagus, and lemon. but it should not be fixed to just that. Orzo can be hearty, flavorful, playful, and light. It's just a matter of imagination.