If you’re someone that enjoys a good risotto but could do without all that one-ladle-at-a-time fuss, orzo is just the ticket. Whoever thought up the idea to make pasta that resembles rice?! (albeit a large grain of rice). Ingenious! What’s also great about this short-cut pasta is that it cooks in half the time because of said size. So many good things going for it!

I’m a mushroom fiend so I’ll have you know before you look through the recipe and think it’s a typo, that I’ve used 400 grams here (not including the dried shiitakes and porcini). That’s 400 grams for 2 people. They shrivel up significantly when you cook them down but you are bound to get a few pieces with each bite. I personally like the proportion of pasta to veg here, but scale back if you prefer.

Shiitakes and porcini mushrooms—along with their soaking liquid—give the orzo a deep, savoury umami depth. The mushrooms are first rehydrated and the soaking liquid is used to cook the orzo. I do a three part liquid situation: stock (in the form of stock cubes), the mushroom soaking liquid, and milk.

Milk gives the dish a starchy creaminess, much like in a risotto. Spinach is stirred through at the very end just to wilt down in the residual heat. Just before you take the pot off the heat, stir in Parmesan, lemon juice, and parsley. We’re avoiding wine here so the lemon helps cut through all that earthy richness from the mushrooms and spinach. I’ve made this dish so many times, tweaking and adding/omitting ingredients with each go. This is the version I like most now. The arborio rice has been shelved until further notice.

MUSHROOM AND SPINACH ORZO

Servings: 2 people

Ingredients

  • 250 grams orzo
  • 400 grams mushrooms (button/oyster or a mix)
  • 150 grams spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 7 garlic cloves, minced
  • 5 dried shiitake mushrooms (optional but recommended)
  • 5-7 dried porcini mushrooms (optional)
  • 2 stock cubes (I used veg)
  • 1 ½ cups milk
  • 35 grams Parmesan, grated
  • 30 grams butter
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 ½ teaspoons black pepper
  • Salt, to taste

Instructions

  • Soak the dried shiitake and porcini mushrooms together in 1 cup of hot water for at least 30 mins. Once they’ve plumped up, remove and discard the hard woody stems of the shiitake mushrooms. Chop into thin strips. Finely chop the porcini mushrooms. Retain the soaking liquid.
  • If using oyster mushrooms: remove and discard the hard ends. Use them as is. For button mushrooms: keep their stems intact. Thinly slice.
  • Add 15 grams of butter to a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
  • Add the orzo to the pot. Pour in with 1 ¼ cups of milk, the mushroom soaking liquid, and 1 cup of water. Season with salt and pepper. Crumble in the stock cubes and add the dried shiitake and porcini.
  • Stir, then cover and cook over a low heat. Stir occasionally until the orzo is cooked through. (Add a bit more water if it starts to stick to the bottom.)
  • While the orzo cooks, sauté the button mushrooms: heat the remaining 15 grams of butter in a large wide pan. Bump the heat up to high and cook the mushrooms until browned. They will sweat and leech out a lot of moisture in the beginning, but will eventually brown after all the water has evaporated. Set the pan aside.
  • Once the orzo has cooked through, add the spinach to the pot. Cover and cook for a few mins just until the spinach wilts down. Stir in the sautéed button/oyster mushrooms, ¾ ths of the Parmesan, parsley, and lemon juice.
  • You’re looking for a risotto consistency. Stir in the remaining ¼ cup of milk if necessary to loosen. Check and adjust seasoning. Serve immediately with more Parmesan sprinkled over the top.

Notes

If you prefer to use stock instead of stock cubes, reduce the amount of water accordingly.

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