Spicy baked orzo


Orzo looks like rice, but it’s actually a very small pasta. It is particularly delicious in cold pasta salads, but today we’re eating it hot. This dish makes a light main course or a satisfying side.  To make it heartier, I’d recommend baking it with chicken or fish, or serving it atop crusty bread as a bruschetta.

Spicy baked orzo
Serves 2-4

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large shallot
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp crushed red pepper (adjust more/less according to spiciness preference)
1 tsp dried oregano flakes
1/4 cup white cooking wine
1 1/2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
1 cup orzo pasta
1 Tbsp capers, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375, then get your mise en place on.  A lot of people don’t like the chopping involved with cooking, but once you hone your knife skills, it gets much easier. Dice the shallot and place in a prep bowl.  Mince the garlic into a bowl as well.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet or saucepan, whichever you prefer.  Add the onions, garlic, oregano, and crushed red pepper and season with salt and pepper.  Allow the onions to soften.

Add in the cooking wine and reduce for 3-4 minutes.  This part, I love.  The wine smells fantastic as it hits the hot pan.  Plus, the way it sizzles as soon as it’s poured in makes me feel like a pro. 

After the wine reduces, add the canned crushed tomatoes.  1 1/2 cups will be about half of a standard 28-ounce can.  Stir the tomatoes into the wine-shallot-garlic-spice mixture, turn the heat to medium-low and cover to allow the ingredients to marry, move in together, and make some tasty flavor babies.
Meanwhile, get your orzo cookin.’  Pour the orzo in boiling, salted water and allow it to cook until it is cooked slightly less than al dente – it will continue to cook in the oven later, and you don’t want soggy pasta.

When your pasta is cooked, taste your sauce and adjust the spices if necessary (more salt, more crushed red pepper?), then add the orzo directly into the sauce.  Reserve some pasta water to add into the sauce if it needs loosening up – the sauce should be loose because it will firm up in the oven.

Fold in half of the grated cheese and all of the capers, then pour into a baking dish.  Top with the remaining cheese. Bake, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes until the cheese is melted and the sauce has slightly reduced.