It started with a craving. Not just any kind of craving -- a random, out-of-the-blue, where-the-heck-did-this-come-from sort of craving.
Okay fine, that's not entirely true. I actually did know where it came from. I just didn't know how it was possible that I would actually desire a dish I used to eat in my college dorm cafeteria.
Sargent dining hall at Northwestern University was by no means a source for epicurean delights. Most of the food served was horrifically bad, and I spent the two years I lived on campus subsisting on garden burgers, pasta with runny marinara sauce, stale bagels, and an obscene amount of Captain Crunch. That is until I discovered Sargent's vegetarian section that offered an orzo pasta dish loaded with broccoli and red peppers on Monday nights. My friend Caroline and I used to fill our plates with the pasta, happy to be eating something other than a bagel with peanut butter and an overly ripe banana for dinner.
This past week, my favorite dining hall entree excused itself from the depths of my memories, and popped right into the first row of my consciousness. I wanted to eat the orzo pasta again. Only I wanted it to be better and to pack more of a protein punch.
I immediately scoured the Internet for hot orzo recipes that included feta, garbanzo beans and veggies, but came up blank. Apparently, orzo is not so hot-to-trot among recipe-makers, or if it is, the orzo is supposed to be served cold as a salad. While I do enjoy salads, I have weird hang-ups about the temperature of my dinner. I need it to be hot. Yes, need. Unless, of course, it is 90+ degrees out and the pasta salad is being served alongside a barbecued chicken breast and ear of corn. Given that it is currently the middle of winter (or supposed to be), that isn't an option. Plus, I wanted my orzo dish to be a meal in itself. An all cold dinner just doesn't do it for me. One could say that it leaves me "cold." Har har har.
Faced with no viable recipe options from Giada or Ina or my other faves, I decided to do something rather dramatic.
I put on my chef hat (in my imagination it is pink and poofy with a big white bow) and made up my own recipe.
While I doubt my plate of crazy-style Greek orzo pasta is going to make the rounds on the foodie blogosphere like it would if it originated in Martha's head, I already know it's going to be a staple in my dinner line-up. I devoured my plate, and then went back to finish the rest of the orzo in the pan. The stars had aligned, and in that magical moment I felt like a pregnant lady who dips her pickles in peanut butter. I fulfilled my craving. And it was good.
My Big Fat Sort-of Greek Orzo Pasta
1/2 cup orzo
1/3 cup garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup shallots, diced
Red pepper, cut into strips
Handful of spinach
Feta cheese (to taste)
Toasted slivered almonds (or pine nuts)
Tablespoon of lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 1/3 cup chicken broth (I used Swanson's)
1. Heat teaspoon of olive oil in sauce pan. Add shallots and orzo, and saute over medium heat until orzo is toasted and shallots are slightly transluscent.
2. Add chicken broth, a 1/2 cup of water, pepper to taste, and reduce heat until just boiling. Add additional liquid as needed until the orzo is tender and has absorbed all the liquid like a risotto.
3. When orzo is nearly done, add the lemon juice, broccoli, red pepper, and garbanzo beans. Cook until veggies are tender. Serve over a bed of fresh spinach or toss the spinach in with the orzo (After trying the former option, I recommend the later).
4. Top the dish with a generous sprinkle of feta, the toasted almonds and a sprinkle of lemon zest.