Orzo Risotto with Peas

Real risotto, the elegant Northern Italian creamy dish created from the special -- and expensive -- rice from Italy’s Po Valley, is difficult to make. And it is so fussy that you must finish cooking it then serve it almost immediately to maintain its tender structure. I have rarely had a good risotto at an American restaurant, even a restaurant with a fine chef.

On the other hand, the pasta shaped like rice, called “orzo,” is much easier – and certainly cheaper - to make into a risotto-like dish. And it will keep for a while after cooking, making it easier to serve. The Italian name “orzo” for the pasta shaped like rice grains actually means barley.

Here’s an orzo risotto with the typical sorts of ingredients in real risotto: peas, white wine, cream and Parmesan cheese. Other vegetables can be used in place of the peas, like short-cut asparagus, mushrooms, or diced zucchini. For those, cook them in at the end, like the peas, but just long enough to be crisp-tender.

The recipe serves six as a side dish or light lunch.

2 tablespoons butter, plus more if needed

2 tablespoons olive oil or chicken fat, plus more if needed

1 small onion, diced

1 small clove garlic

1 pound orzo pasta

1/2 cup white wine

1 1/2 cups unseasoned chicken broth or water, plus more water as needed

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon oregano

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 bay leaves

Pinch of cayenne

1 cup frozen peas

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese 

Heat butter and oil or chicken fat to pot and fry onion, stirring frequently, until softened. Stir in garlic for 15 seconds. Add orzo, and stir and fry 2 minutes. 

Add wine, chicken broth or water, salt and seasonings. Simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently, and add a little water as needed to keep the orzo quite moist. When orzo is tender, add the frozen peas and cream. Simmer, stirring frequently, several minutes. Add a little water if needed to keep the mixture quite moist. Taste and add salt, if needed. Remove from heat and keep warm.

Before serving, stir in the cheese.



Super Easy Rémoulade Sauce

Rémoulade, that traditional French and subsequently Louisiana Créole dipping sauce (think New Orleans Shrimp Rémoulade), was originally a garlic-scented mayonnaise with a little extra vinegar or lemon juice. But it can have almost anything savory added, from minced green onion, parsley, pickled relish, roasted peppers, to minced tomato or even horseradish or Dijon mustard.

I use various rémoulades for catering to accompany crab cakes, potato cutlets, and herb-roasted potatoes and sweet potatoes. At home, we serve it as a dip for artichoke leaves and hearts, and with grilled or fried asparagus. At family Easter dinner this year I made a rémoulade to dress the roasted root vegetables. But people topped their cold herb-roasted pork tenderloin slices with it too, and my daughter Anna asked me to make more of the “pork sauce” for a catering client. Ah well! It’s a useful sauce. And easy!!!

Here’s a particularly easy version, requiring maybe a minute to make.

The recipe provides sufficient sauce for the condiment for four to six people.

 1 clove garlic

4 tablespoons whole-milk yogurt (or 3 tbsp. fat-free yogurt + 1 tbsp. sour cream)

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar or white vinegar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Rub the inside of a mixing bowl well with a halved clove of garlic to season the bowl and the sauce that will be mixed in it. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and mix them well until smooth.

Taste, and add a little salt if you wish or vinegar. Let sit for at least ten minutes before serving. Mix again. 

Place in a suitable serving bowl for the sauce’s intended use. It can, optionally, be garnished with a little minced parsley or green onion dusted on top.

Braised Lamb and Turnip or Brussels Sprouts: Easy, Easy, Easy 

I guess this rich, slightly heavy dish doesn’t really fit with the early summer heat we’re experiencing recently in North Georgia. But its easiness, at least, suits cooking in the prematurely hot weather. Having been food shopping for the restaurant and household in Atlanta yesterday, I had a half pound of ground lamb and some fresh purple-topped turnips on hand. So here is one of the simplest dishes I cook that can qualify as dinner.

Ground lamb is one of my favorite meats. Middle eastern meatballs are the preferred use, but a modest amount of lamb braised with hearty vegetables to season them works very well. Okra, chickpeas, turnip, or Brussels sprouts are all enhanced by some lamb cooked with them, and the result is economical, savory and hearty. Fresh ground lamb is sometimes hard to find. It’s always available in Atlanta in shops where the Muslim community shops, like Dekalb Farmers Market and Buford Highway Farmers Market. But it’s also at stores elsewhere, including here in Athens, that carry good and especially local meats. It’s a little pricey, but you don’t need a lot. Ground pork or even good ground beef can substitute. 

I got spring turnips this time, but heartier brassicas like rutabaga turnip or Brussels sprouts (or even kohlrabi) also work. With the dominating flavors of lamb and turnip I used only mild enhancements from black pepper and a little onion The starch to accompany this was toasted split English muffins or whole-grain toast, and the side dish was a fresh green salad with lettuce from my garden. The meal took about 25 minutes from start to eating. 

The recipe serves 2-3 for a small dinner. A dollop of sour cream can be put on top of the mixture when eating. 

1 medium-large or 2 medium turnips, or 1 small rutabaga (or 1/2 pound Brussels sprouts) 
1/2 small onion, finely minced 
1/2-pound ground lamb, or pork or beef 
3/8 teaspoon ground black pepper 
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste 
2 tablespoons white wine 
Water as needed 
2 toasted English muffins split in halves halves or 2 slices whole grain bread for serving 
Sour cream for topping, optional 

Peel the turnip(s) and cut in 1/4-inch dice, or cut stem off Brussels sprouts and quarter them. 

In pot, fry the ground meat with the minced onion until well cooked. Add turnip or Brussels sprouts plus pepper and salt, wine and a few tablespoons water. Cover pot and cook over low-medium heat, stirring every few minutes, until vegetable becomes tender (15 minutes for turnip, 20 plus minutes for rutabaga, 10 minutes for Brussels sprouts). Add a little water if needed to keep a little liquid in the pot. 

Taste a piece of vegetable for tenderness and salt. Add salt as needed. Cook until tender, and remove from the heat. 

Serve on buttered, toasted English muffin halves or slices of toast. Put a dollop of sour cream on the braised meat and vegetable if desired. Accompany with a green salad.

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