I’m intrigued by orzo. That’s why I wandered up to the shelf stacked with several boxes of the stuff. I was in a local coffee shop. My browsing was spotted by the owner who came over to chat. It’s very good pasta he said – yes, but how do you cook with it? The answer was a little vague but seemed to revolve around versions of soup and pasta dishes. During the conversation I learned that he was from the Middle East – so I was further intrigued to know if this type of pasta was particularly suitable for any regional specialties, but I did not get any immediate inspiration. I bought the orzo and mused over the possibilities as I ventured out of the shop.
Orzo – and its close relative risoni – is rice-shaped pasta. Risoni may be smaller than orzo but for the purposes of keeping things simple, I am not going to try to distinguish between them here and assume that they are interchangeable. The obvious use for either orzo or risoni – as my proprietor and all Italians will know – is in soup, but there are many other shapes of pasta that will work in soup. I can imagine orzo in a pasta salad. But, I’m not satisfied – is there not something cleverer that can be done with it?
Barilla say to substitute it for rice in a risotto. So it seems that substituting orzo for rice could be the way to go in exploring new recipes. It occurs I could use it to make a paella, treating the orzo like fiduela (which fries pasta at the start of cooking).
I decided to use the fiduela method but for a pilaf. The frying helps to make the pasta stay as separate ‘grains’, but I also limited the amount of orzo and added plenty of other ingredients such as lentils and chickpeas. Then I put it on a flat bread with yoghurt and harissa chicken wings. It worked – I might dare show the recipe to my local coffee shop owner…