Here’s an easy side dish I developed pretty much by accident due to the fact that I stepped away from the stovetop while attempting an orzo risotto recipe. Orzo is a little pasta shape that looks a lot like big grains of rice. When I returned to the stove, I saw that the orzo was super toasted, and there was no way that was going to cooperate into giving off its starch to becoming a creamy risotto. “Rats”, I thought, but then decided just to go with it and see what happened. The result was this happy surprise. Toasting the orzo until just a tad past golden brown gave it a nutty, more developed flavor, and didn’t make the pasta clump up – not one bit. The addition of some wine, then chicken broth, further popped up the flavor. But being one who can’t leave well enough alone, I grabbed a couple of handfuls of baby spinach and tossed them in until just softened, then finished the whole business with some crumbled feta cheese, toasted pine nuts, and roasted garlic. Yowza.
When I said ‘super toasted’, I wasn’t kidding. For this recipe, you’ll want to toast the orzo in a medium hot skillet until a good number of the little pastas are nice and brown. Then, you pour in a healthy amount of white wine and let all that thirsty pasta drink it up (kind of like me on a Friday night). Here’s what the result should look like. Now you are ready to add that chicken broth in there and finish the cooking process.
It will take about 20-30 minutes for all of the chicken broth to be absorbed, but be sure to check by tasting to make sure you don’t end up with undercooked pasta. Get all of your side ingredients together, because once you’ve got the pasta where you want it, you will be five minutes away from eating it, which is our favorite part of this whole thing. Serve it right out of the skillet, or find a pretty serving platter if you want to get all fancy about it.
I like to either serve it on the side of a chicken or fish entree, or scoop a bunch into a nice bowl and go to town. Your choice.
Hope you enjoy this easy, weeknight side dish. Just wait until you taste that melted feta in there!! Thanks for reading!! xoxox
PS: I’ve included a photo below, showing how a finished bunch of roasted garlic should look when it’s done.
- Approximately 2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
- 2 cups dried orzo pasta
- 1 cup white wine
- 4 cups chicken broth (approximately – you might need a little more)
- 2 generous cups of fresh, baby spinach leaves
- 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
- 2 tablespoons roasted garlic (optional. Note: I am a lover of roasted garlic, but you can really go overboard on this stuff if you aren’t careful. You might want to start with 1 tablespoon and see what you think) (See NOTE below for how to roast garlic)
- ¼ cup pine nuts, toasted (See NOTE below for how to toast them)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until nice and hot – look for the oil to shimmer if you can.
- Add the orzo and stir, making sure all of those little pastas are coated with oil.
- Now for the patience, but it won’t take long so keep your eyes on it: Let the orzo sit there in the oil until it starts to turn a deep golden brown, then stir to make sure that nearly all of the pasta gets a chance to get toasted and get down there with hot pan contact.
- Once you’ve got that covered, add the wine – prepare for steam and noise from your pan. Stir the pasta around just a tad bit, and then wait until all of the wine is absorbed. This will take probably a minute or less.
- Add the chicken broth, and stir again to make sure everybody is in contact with the broth. Season with salt and pepper at this point, but no need to go overboard, especially if your broth is salted. You can always finish seasoning later.
- Stir occasionally until all of the broth is absorbed. Now taste to see if your pasta is done. If it still feels kind of crunchy in the middle, add more broth and continue cooking until it tastes right to you.
- Reduce heat to low, then toss the spinach on top and stir it in. It should soften in just a few seconds.
- Stir in the feta crumbles, then add the roasted garlic (if using), and top with toasted pine nuts.
- Taste again. Are you good to go? Need more of anything? Do what you need to do to get this baby on the table and dive in.
- NOTE: To toast pine nuts – heat oven to 350 degrees and scatter pine nuts into a pie dish. Spray with a teensy bit of oil and a teensy bit of salt, and then swish that around until everything is coated. Pop them in the oven and toast until you can smell them in there and they start to look toasty. Don’t look away for too long – the entire process should take between 5-10 minutes.
- NOTE: To roast garlic – here’s what I do…. I buy a bunch of garlic cloves already peeled (Costco or other stores have them in the refrigerated section). Then I roast a ton of it, put it into Ziplock bags, and freeze in ¼ cup measures. If you don’t go that route, I would peel cloves off of one or two heads of garlic, which is a pain to be sure. Place the garlic cloves on a cookie sheet that has been lined with aluminum foil, then toss the garlic cloves in some canola or olive oil, and sprinkle with salt. Roast until cloves are softened and some are turning a light golden brown. This might take 30 minutes or more, but believe me – it’s worth the effort.