I’m a creature of habit when it comes to pastas. I don’t do many meat versions either. (A vegetarian husband requires that my meat component is always on the side, and never in the pasta itself.)
To make it into our regular meal rotations I make sure my pasta dishes follow these general rules. 1) Increase the amount of vegetables. 2) Add enough cheese to add bulk and substance and therefore reduce carb consumption. 3) Reduce the number of tomatoes.
Adding vegetables is not as easy as you’d think – I don’t enjoy biting into bits of broccoli or zucchini, so other than mushrooms, I stay away from using them in this manner. One way to get around this problem is to roast up carrots, zucchini, and red peppers along with tomatoes, onions, and garlic. If you use the right proportions of tomatoes to veggies, it’ll end up tasting exactly like a tomato sauce. Sneaky, sneaky.
Spinach is another favourite veg addition. You wilt down a big bunch and add it into a basil pesto. Or my favourite – (wilted) spinach, paneer, and green chillies blended up. Great to stuff into banana peppers, lasagne sheets or eggplant ‘lasagne’, or crepes. I even use it in my pasta bake.
Pumpkin is a tricky ingredient to use as a base. Unless roasted and charred, it’ll end up tasting too sweet. I made a sauce using just pumpkins and even with feta to counter it, it ended up too sweet for my liking. It needed more. More heat, more acid, more depth of flavour. It was too one-dimensional.
After a few iterations, here’s where I happily landed: onions, tomato (paste), garlic, and stock cubes. I roasted the pumpkin along with onion wedges and an entire head of garlic. Depth of flavour – check. Whilst blending the sauce, add a few stock cubes for that umami kick. We also throw in whole peppercorns at this stage for heat.
Now the acid: first you toast the orzo in a little olive oil. Then add tomato paste and enough water to three fourths-cook the pasta. Stir in the roasted pumpkin sauce at this stage and cook to get the right consistency. Stir in half the feta into the hot pasta, then crumble the rest on top.
PUMPKIN & FETA ORZO
- 500 grams pumpkin
- 300 grams orzo
- 150 grams feta
- 1 whole head of garlic
- 2 medium onions, sliced into thick wedges
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste (see notes)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 stock cubes
- 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
- Salt, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 180 C.
- Remove and discard the skin and seeds of the pumpkin. Chop into approx 1 inch cubes. Halve the unpeeled head of garlic horizontally. Wrap in foil with a tiny drizzle of olive oil.
- Place the pumpkin cubes on a large baking tray. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt. Place the garlic-wrapped foil alongside.
- Roast in the oven for 45 mins or until a knife inserted into a piece of pumpkin goes through without any resistance. Set aside to cool slightly.
- Add 1 tablespoon of oil to a pot over medium heat. Sauté onions until browned.
- Add the orzo and toast for 2 mins until lightly browned. Add in the tomato paste and ½ cup water. Cook covered for 5 mins.
- Add 2 more cups of water to the pot. Cover and cook until the orzo is 3/4ths cooked, about 10 mins. Add more water if necessary.
- Add the pumpkin and the peppercorns to a blender. Squeeze out the softened garlic cloves into it. Blend to a smooth purée adding 1 cup of water.
- Add the pumpkin purée to the orzo. Cover and cook until the orzo has the right consistency. Crumble in half the feta and stir through.
- Serve immediately with the rest of the feta crumbled over.