For some reason, I don’t think of orzo as pasta. I’m not sure what I consider it – perhaps rice or some sort of a whole grain. I know it’s made out of semolina flour, just like regular pasta, but in my eyes, it’s much more versatile than what we normally cook with. In the recipe I’m going to share below, it’s toasted, which adds an additional layer of flavor and interest.
I want you to think of the following ingredients individually: fennel, fennel seed, orange zest and white wine. These are rather interesting, if I don’t say so myself. In today’s recipe, these ingredients are what gives the final dish much of its flavor. Well, these, in addition to some garlic, onion, olives and a few more things.
This is the first recipe I’ve prepared in some time that truly focused on the ingredients. As you may already be aware, the recipe previous to this one was an orzo dish as well. That one was great. This is is great too, but different. While the previous dish focused more on vegetables, bulk and satisfaction, this one focuses on flavor development. And it showed as I was cooking. Laura mentioned how good things smelled in the kitchen last night. I couldn’t get over the uniqueness of things – especially at the very end when I added the nutmeg. I really need to start paying more attention to nutmeg.
I’d like to thank Cook’s Illustrated for this fine recipe. I picked it out last week right before we headed out to the grocery store. If I recall, it was the fennel and the orange that stood. I said, “Hmm, that sounds nice. Let’s do it.”
1 Fennel Bulb, Chopped in 1/4 Inch Pieces
2 Tablespoons Regular Olive Oil
1 Medium Sized Sweet Onion, Finely Chopped
1 Teaspoon Fennel Seeds
1/2 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
Regular Table Salt
2 Teaspoons Garlic, Minced
2 Teaspoons Grated Orange Zest
1 Pound Dry Orzo
3/4 Cup Dry White Wine
3 1/2 Cups Vegetable Broth, Low Sodium
1/2 Cup Black Olives, Sliced
2 Ounces Grated Asiago Cheese
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
Ground Black Pepper
If you’re an orange lover, I don’t see anything wrong with adding a bit more orange zest. Once you begin cooking what the recipe calls for, you’ll likely want to toss a bit more in the skillet. It becomes very aromatic and fills the house wonderfully. The same is true for the fennel seed and the nutmeg. These are flavor enhancers, so follow your taste buds.
Brown the Fennel & Onion
Warm a heavy 12 inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil to it. Once it’s to temperature, add in the chopped fennel, onion, fennel seed, red pepper flakes and 3/4 teaspoon of salt. Cook, while stirring, for about 6-7 minutes. The onion and fennel should soften and brown somewhat during this time.
Add Garlic & Orange Zest
Next, add in the orange zest and garlic and let cook, while stirring, for another minute or so. At this point, you should begin to smell both of these ingredients.
After a minute or so, you can add the dry orzo to the skillet. Mix often and cook over the same heat for another 5 minutes. This is the “toasting” portion of the recipe.
Add Wine & Broth
In one fell swoop, add the white wine and the broth to the skillet. Turn the heat to high until the liquid begins to boil and once it does, turn it down to medium-low. Let simmer, while stirring, for about 10 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed by the orzo.
Add Remaining Ingredients
After the liquid has been absorbed into the orzo, you can add the remaining ingredients. Go ahead and toss in the sliced olives, a few pinches of ground black pepper, the Asiago cheese and the nutmeg. Be sure to mix everything together well.
The Final Dish
I can’t overstate how unique the flavors of this dish are. I encourage you to give this one a try. It’s extraordinarily simple to prepare and I think it’ll be a hit on the dinner table.
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