Orzo is a very popular type of pasta that is used in all parts of the Mediterranean. It is a short cut pasta, that looks like large grains of rice. It is cooked in many different ways, and can be eaten alone, in a soup, as a salad, or in a casserole, as well as many other ways. Orzo also goes by many names. In Italy, it is known as orzo or risoni, but it is also known as kritharaki in Greece, which means little barley; arpa sehriye, or the barley noodle, in Turkey; pinones in Spain; Ptitim in Hebrew, which means flakes and the Arabic translation means songbird tongue. Who knew? All I know is that it is very tasty, delicious and is very versatile too.
The people of the Mediterranean not only like to cook with this versatile little pasta, but they also enjoy cooking and eating it with a lot of vegetables and fresh herbs and spices too. The more vegetables the better. This is exactly how I like to cook as well. Mediterranean style cooking has always been one of my favorite ways to cook. It is always full of fresh flavors and is a very healthy cooking style. It has often been said the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest diets out there. I truly believe this. We eat a lot of Mediterranean style foods and dishes.
It was a Mediterranean night last night. It was a perfect Spring evening, not too cool and not to warm either. There were no heavy sauces to weigh us down, but our meal was loaded with freshness and flavor. I served lemon-herb chicken with sauteed vegetables over a bed of orzo mixed with spinach, tomatoes, garlic and toasted pine nuts. I also added some crispy sourdough bread and some chilled chardonnay, making the meal a perfect light meal for a beautiful Spring evening.
First, I made a lemon-herb vinaigrette to marinate my chicken. I let it marinate for about 4 hours before grilling it. This is a simple, easy vinaigrette to make, as most are, and only requires a few simple ingredients.
1 TBSP garlic
1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/4 lemon juice
1/3-1/2 cup olive oil
black pepper to taste
1-2 tsp each of fresh herbs of your choice – I used basil, sage, lemon verbena and thyme this time. I switch my herbs around depending on what I have on hand at the time. Mix everything together well and serve. You can use it as either a dressing for a salad or as a marinade for chicken or fish.
To make my orzo, I followed the directions on the package to cook it, then added spinach, garlic, shallots, tomatoes and toasted pine nuts. Chiffonade the spinach, or cut it into thin strips, slice the shallot into very thin slices, and saute together along with the garlic and salt and pepper to taste, cooking for about 3-4 minutes. Dice the tomatoes into a small dice. When the orzo is cooked, add the cooked vegetables, tomatoes, and toasted pine nuts and mix everything together well.
I only used a portion of the spinach mixture and the tomatoes for the orzo. I sauteed sliced mushrooms in olive oil and added them to the spinach, along with some artichoke hearts and the rest of the tomatoes. Because I did not want either the tomatoes or the artichoke hearts to break down, I added them at the very end, when all the other vegetables were completely cooked, and just incorporated them into the mixture. Add salt and pepper as needed or to taste.
I like to layer my foods. It is an old restaurant style of presentation, that still looks beautiful. I started with a layer of the orzo, then added my grilled chicken, topped with mozzarella cheese. I topped it all off with a layer of the artichoke vegetables, then some more toasted pine nuts. Enjoy with a glass of your favorite wine and … Delicious!