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06.02.2017

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The perfect midweek meal, or even Saturday night comfort dinner. A deeply tasty dish with orzo pasta, delicious mushrooms, rich balsamic cream and flavourful parmesan. Added bonus? Orzotto is so simple and easy to make.

Orzotto with Mushrooms, Balsamic Cream and Parmesan www.thefoodiecorner.gr Photo description: A side view of the orzotto, on a white plate with a sprig of thyme on top. In the background to the left barely visible, an upright packet of orzo, an onion and two mushrooms, and a bowl of grated parmesan to the right. The backdrop is black.

Orzo pasta is very popular in Greece. For a long time I didn’t even know there was a word for it in English. I had never come across it in any non-Greek recipes and Mrs D., although English, always called it kritharaki which is its Greek name. But a few years ago I discovered that yes, kritharaki does indeed exist outside this country, and it’s called orzo (which is actually the Italian name). Of course it is also used in Italian, Turkish and Middle Eastern cooking, like many other ingredients we think of as Greek. I really don’t think there are many things that can claim to originate from any single country, there are so many influences from so many parts of the world, on all aspects of cooking. It’s quite interesting when you start looking into it.

Orzotto with Mushrooms, Balsamic Cream and Parmesan www.thefoodiecorner.gr Photo description: A 3/4 view of the orzotto, on a white plate with a sprig of thyme on top. In the background to the left barely visible, an onion and two mushrooms, a bowl of grated parmesan and a piece of parmesan with a bit broken off.

Anyway, orzo is a type of pasta shaped like large grains of rice. It looks like barley, which is where it gets its name from in both Italian and Greek (krithari is barley, kritharaki is “little barley”). It’s a great alternative to rice when making risotto-like dishes, because it cooks quicker and the best part is… wait for it… you don’t have to gradually add liquid. You can dump the whole lot in at the beginning and let the orzo absorb it nicely without sticking or becoming a big gloopy mess. Just make sure you stir a few times during cooking. How great is that? Perfect for a busy weeknight.

Orzotto with Mushrooms, Balsamic Cream and Parmesan www.thefoodiecorner.gr Photo description: An ingredient shot, on a dark surface. In the centre, some scattered orzo. To its left, an onion and a couple of mushrooms. To its right, towards the bottom of the photo, a large piece of parmesan lying on a linen napkin. Just visible in the top right corner a piece of parmesan sitting on a grater.

Mushrooms are a classic option for risotto, so I decided to use them in this orzotto. They suit pasta perfectly anyway, so I was sure it would be super tasty. And to be honest I’m not the first to have thought of it, there are several recipes out there combining the two. Here however, I’ve added balsamic cream to give a deep, rich and slightly sweet flavour to everything. It is the ideal partner for mushrooms, and makes a lot of difference to the end result. Parmesan complements the combo extremely well (of course it would, parmesan is just plain gorgeous) and a splash of fresh cream always makes everything even better. So there is some of that too. Now look at that ingredient list and try to resist running to the shops! Actually don’t try to resist. Go shop and make this delicious orzotto asap.

Orzotto with Mushrooms, Balsamic Cream and Parmesan www.thefoodiecorner.gr Photo description: A closer view of the plate of orzotto. A slice of mushroom visible on top of the pasta, with a sprig of thyme. To the right of the plate a fork and spoon lying on a bunched up linen tea towel. Barely visible to left above the plate, a broken piece of parmesan. All sitting on a dark surface.

Ingredients

1 Tbs butter

1 Tbs olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 tsp garlic paste (see here for homemade)

500gr mushrooms (I used the small brown ones), thickly sliced

1/2 tsp thyme, dried

1/4 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly cracked

1 heaping cup orzo pasta (250ml volume)

4 Tbs balsamic cream

500ml chicken stock, hot (or veggie stock)

250ml water, hot

50gr parmesan, grated – plus extra for serving

2 Tbs heavy cream (optional but good)

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Balsamic cream is a balsamic vinegar reduction, thick and syrupy, with added sugar. You can make your own following recipes on the internet, or you can buy it ready-made in shops.

Step 1

Heat the butter and oil in a large, deep frying pan till frothy. Add the onion and gently cook for 5 minutes. Add the garlic paste, stir, and add the mushrooms. Mix well and let them cook for about 9 minutes.

Step 2

Before all the liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated, add the thyme, paprika, salt, pepper and orzo. Stir to coat and let the orzo absorb any liquid in the pan for about a minute.

Step 3

Add the balsamic cream and stir well.

Step 4

Pour the stock and water into the pan, stir and let it start to bubble. Turn the heat to low and let the mixture simmer for about 20 minutes or until the pasta is cooked through and there is very little liquid in the pan (the orzo will continue to absorb after it is removed from the heat). If the pan is dry and the orzo undercooked, just add more hot water in small quantities until cooked slightly al dente.

Step 5

Mix in the parmesan and cream if using. Serve with extra cheese and freshly ground black pepper.

Notes: These amounts yield 2 large portions as a main or 4 sides.
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I’ve used cup measurements in this recipe as the orzo is best cooked at a 1:3 ratio to liquid. So it’s easier to go by volume.
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The Greek version of this recipe is sponsored by the Greek pasta brand MISKO. All opinions are my own.

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