Saffron Orzo with Fennel and Vegetarian Chorizo
Orzo has a similar shape to rice, but it's actually pasta . I've found that kids love orzo; it's more tender and more pleasing to the palate of little ones.
We were running out of long grain rice in the house, so I decided to use orzo pasta as a substitute for rice in my Spanish rice dish. To bring another layer of flavor, I added some fennel that I cook in apple juice. Enjoy!
Yields: 61 16-oz package orzo pasta
3/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 sprig thyme
1 small fennel
1 cup unfiltered apple juice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon salt, + extra for pasta water (about 1 tablespoon)
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns, freshly ground
2 tablespoons cilantro, (or dill depending on what's available in my garden)
For the orzo pasta: Bring about 5 quarts of water to a boil. Add the pasta, bring back to a boil, then immediately lower the heat to a gentle boil. That way the pasta is cooked all the way through evenly. Cook the pasta for about 12 minutes total. Salt the water half way through the cooking process, and keep stirring every now and then so that the pasta does not stick to the bottom. It may take longer than the cooking time that is written on the box. When the pasta is cooked (cooked inside and out but still firm and in shape, reserve about 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup of pasta water and drain the pasta (do NOT rinse). Transfer the cooked pasta to a bowl. Add the lemon juice. Season with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
For the vegetarian chorizo: In a pan, heat the olive oil and add the garlic and shallot and cook until slightly golden. Add the vegetarian chorizo. Separate the "soyrizo" into small lumps using a spoon. Cook until each piece is nicely browned. Transfer to a bowl. Set aside.
For the fennel: Discard the stalk and thinly slice the fennel bulb. In the same pan, add the butter and the sprig of thyme. Add the onion. Cook until translucent. Add the fennel and cook until slightly browned (about 5-7 minutes). Add the apple juice and about 1/3 cup of pasta water. Season with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for about 10-12 minutes until all the juice is evaporated. Remove and discard the thyme.
Assembly time: In a mortar and pestle, grind the saffron threads. Add about 1/3 cup of water. In the same pan, add the orzo pasta to the fennel and the saffron water. Toss well for about 3-4 minutes. If the pasta starts sticking to the bottom, add a little pasta water. Add the rest of the butter, Tabasco sauce and the "soyrizo". Turn off the heat. Add the cilantro. Season with salt and pepper. Gently stir the saffron orzo without mashing the "soyrizo". Cover and let stand until you're ready to serve.
Garnish with more cilantro.
The vegetarian chorizo (click on the link for the recipe) has a similar texture to ground beef. The spices really add an extra dimension of flavor to this dish that plain, bland tofu cannot.
The method for the orzo is quite similar to the one used for making wild rice. I just under-cook the pasta and finish cooking it with the fennel.
To add more crunch, you can add about 1/3 cup of toasted pine nuts. I didn't because my 9-year-old-sister-in-law is extremely allergic to nuts.
To add a creamier taste, I also add crumbled goat cheese right at the end (not pictured). Add it at the last minute before serving otherwise it'll melt .Published By: on July 20, 2009.