I know you've been waiting with bated breath after my last post, eager to discover what exciting things I've been doing with orzo, the rice-shaped pasta that I finally got round to locating and purchasing this week. I'm a little bit obsessed with it. I can't get enough of its delicious texture; comforting and starchy like risotto rice, but less chalky and more slippery. You can pile it in mounds on your fork (which is always a plus in my - greedy - book), each individual grain held together by a flavoursome sauce. It's great both hot or cold, as a risotto-like meal or in a salad instead of something like couscous or lentils. Perhaps the only problem is that it slips down a little too easily...and before you know it, you've eaten an entire ice-cream tub full of the stuff for lunch. Oops.
A word of warning - if you do eat an entire ice-cream tub full of the stuff for lunch, a headache and the onset of intense stupor is fairly inevitable.
This recipe is from Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day, which I bought recently after seeing an amazing-looking recipe for baked oatmeal from the book on another food blog. I haven't had much chance to experiment with it yet, but the three recipes I have tried (this one, a plum cake, and a really great dish of pomegranate-glazed aubergine and butternut squash with feta and coriander) have been so astoundingly delicious that I think the future holds exciting things.
It's easy to read through some of the recipes, though, and be unable to imagine how they'll taste. Rather like with an Ottolenghi recipe; there are some odd combinations that don't instantly make you think "YUM". Unlike, for example, cheese and bacon, or lamb and apricot, or mushrooms and butter. I read through this recipe and wasn't entirely convinced, but then I figured that adding toasted pine nuts, lots of parmesan, lemon, garlic, salt and avocado to a dish couldn't be a bad thing. Individually, the components sounded good.
Combined, the result was incredible. Essentially, it's a pesto made by putting partially-cooked broccoli, garlic, toasted pine nuts, parmesan and lemon juice in a blender. When I first tasted the result, I actually went "yum" out loud. (Which doesn't often happen, when I'm on my own. Then again I am drinking a lot more wine while cooking these days...)
I then ate a few more spoonfuls, for testing purposes. It has all the addictive deliciousness of pesto, from the pine nuts, parmesan and garlic, but a lovely depth of flavour from the broccoli, a flavour somehow richer and less overpowering than basil. You stir the pesto into the slippery grains of orzo, add some whole broccoli florets, a chopped avocado, some lemon zest, and eat. The avocado is an inspired suggestion - it lends the whole dish a wonderful creaminess. Heidi puts creme fraiche in her recipe, but I didn't bother stirring any into mine - the broccoli purée and the avocado contribute more than enough richness.
If you can't locate orzo, try making this with any pasta. It's an unusual and inspired combination of ingredients, and possibly on the cards to become your new favourite pasta dish. It's also full of all sorts of healthy things, like avocado and broccoli. The vibrant green colour alone is enough to make you feel more alive.
Orzo with broccoli pesto and avocado (serves 4):
(Adapted from 'Super Natural Every Day', by Heidi Swanson)
350g orzo pasta
Salt, for the water
2 heads of broccoli, cut into small florets and stalk cut into thin slices
5 tbsp toasted pine nuts
2 tbsp garlic-infused olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
4-6 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra to serve
2 avocadoes, flesh roughly diced
Zest of a lemon
Bring a large pan of water to the boil, and add a generous amount of salt. Cook the broccoli for 3 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon. Add the orzo to the pan and cook according to the packet instructions (about 13 minutes).
Meanwhile, put all the cooked broccoli stalk and most of the florets into a blender with all but 1 tbsp of the pine nuts, the lemon juice, salt, garlic oil and Parmesan. Blitz to a purée, adding a little water to loosen the mixture if it needs it. Taste to check the seasoning - you might want more cheese, lemon juice, garlic or salt; it's really a matter of personal taste. It should taste rather like basil pesto.
When the pasta is cooked, drain, reserving a little of the cooking water (about 4 tbsp). Add the broccoli pesto to the pasta in the pan and mix together, adding a little of the cooking water to loosen it up if it needs it. Stir in the avocado and lemon zest.
To serve, pile the pasta onto a plate and top with a few remaining broccoli florets and the remaining pine nuts. Grate over a little more Parmesan, and serve.