Saturday, March 29, 2014

Risotto-style pasta "makes its own gravy"

I was intrigued by an article and recipe by Florence Fabricant in yesterday's New York Times:
Recipe: Penne With Carrots, Chanterelles and Sausage  
This recipe uses a method in which pasta is cooked like risotto. Sometimes the noodle is toasted first, but always the broth is stirred into the pasta as it cooks. I learned it from Alain Ducasse, and it’s typical in some regions of Italy, including Puglia and Liguria. The pasta takes on great flavor and makes its own sauce. 
Cook pasta like risotto, adding the water a little at a time and stirring often? Hey! That could work! I wanted to try it right away, by which I meant last night! But the idea of starting with a heavy bite-size pasta shape like whole-wheat penne didn't really appeal.

Hey! Why not do it with orzo? Or riso?
Tiny, grain-shaped pasta bits bearing a fanciful resemblance to barley or rice, respectively, should make a great stand-in for Arborio rice. I always keep a supply of orzo on hand, and I had some beautiful fresh spinach on hand to dress it with, so we were off to the food races.  Not only was the result delicious, but it made a quick-and-simple dinner. The orzo only needed about 15 minutes of stirring to reach a good al dente status, and with prep work and all, dinner needed only about 45 minutes to get to the table.

First, I sauteed a good-size bunch of rinsed, de-stemmed spinach leaves, then sauteed them in olive oil with a couple of smashed garlic cloves just long enough to wilt.  I let it cool a little, then chopped the spinach and garlic fine, put it in a bowl and set it aside.

Next step was the "risotto."  I got about a quart of light veggie broth simmering on a back burner.  On the burner in front of it, on medium-high heat, I sauteed about 1 cup chopped onion in olive oil with dashes of salt, black pepper and a light dose of dried red-pepper flakes until the onion started to brown.  

Then I added 1/2 cup orzo (for two) and stirred it with the browned onions and seasonings until some of the grains started to toast. At that point I reduced heat to medium-low and began a standard risotto technique,  stirring in the broth, a ladle at a time, waiting for most of the broth to be absorbed before continuing with another ladle full.  Continue, checking the pasta often, until it's just al dente; then stir in the reserved chopped spinach and garlic.  Remove from heat, stir in 1/4 cup grated Grana Padano cheese, check seasonings and serve.