If I had to pick a favorite pasta shape, I’d probably go with orzo. My mom used to add it to chicken soup when I was a kid. Now I like to eat it plain, with nothing but a dab of butter and a grinding of pepper, or I’ll toss in some cooked broccoli and grated Parmegiano and call it dinner. It’s the texture of orzo that I really like. And the fact that you don’t have to twirl it around a fork, you can just shovel it in. It’s high on my list of comfort foods.
I think that orzo is the most misunderstood pasta shape of all. It troubles me when people are confused about it, when they’re convinced it’s rice. I feel I must come to its defense against this common mix-up—orzo isn’t rice, it’s pasta. Pasta, really. I just want people to understand.
But—and here’s where it gets complicated—even though orzo is pasta, it can be cooked like rice. It’s especially good cooked like rice pilaf. That’s exactly what I recently did, since it’s right in the middle of spring, and I’m having to dream up lots of different and delicious ways to prepare all the beautiful asparagus I keep bringing home from the farmers market.
Orzo Pilaf with Asparagus & Prosciutto
1 quart chicken broth
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
1 pound orzo
4 to 6 cloves garlic, minced
3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, julienned
1 pound asparagus, trimmed of woody ends, thinly sliced on a bias, and blanched
Freshly ground black pepper
Grated Parmegiano-Reggiano, for serving
Bring the broth to a simmer in a small saucepan. Meanwhile, heat a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking. Add the butter and swirl to coat the bottom of the pot. Add the orzo and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Add the garlic and sauté for another 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the hot broth and simmer, stirring frequently, for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the orzo is al dente. Stir in the prosciutto and asparagus and season to taste with salt and pepper. Arrange on individual plates, top with plenty of Parmegiano, and serve immediately.
Serves 4 to 6 as a main course. Toasting the orzo gives it complex nutty flavor. Be aware that the broth will bubble up furiously when you add it to the orzo.