Orzo Risotto with Peas


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.

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