Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Not Your Mother's Pilaf: Orzo with Kale

Have you ever picked raspberries?  I realize I talk about them a great deal on this blog, but you'd understand if you'd been swimming in them, too.  I promise, it will end soon.  The first harvest is already petering out.

My point, though, is that when you're picking raspberries, you can't just look for them from the top.  That's where you start.  But then you have to gently separate the canes, and finally, when you think you've found all of the ripe ones, you have to squat beneath them and look up.  It's like a whole new world every time.  All you need is a little change of perspective.

In my youth, I associated orzo with rice pilaf.  I had no great love of rice pilaf.  It came from a box, and somehow often had burnt onions in it.  But when I arrived at graduate school at UCLA, where my fellow students introduced me to real creative cooking, I found salads of orzo studded with crisp bright vegetables, orzo with exotic spices ... suddenly I developed new appreciation for the humble little pasta shape.  New perspective.

Though I've been cutting back on things like bread and pasta for a while now (almost never eating it for dinner), and when I do make pasta, it tends to be something in the whole wheat or spelt family, our CSA sent us this recipe, and I figured I'd give it a go.  I made it last night for tonight's dinner (which is something I do pretty regularly, given that I rarely get home before 5:30 and we like to get dinner on the table by 6:00 so the night doesn't drag out too long for Ian), and found myself sitting in front of the mixing bowl, chowing down uncontrollably before I put it away.  It turned out a little like risotto, but lighter; the lemon/garlic sauce was a perfect complement to the kale.  The turmeric doesn't offer too much flavor (a little nutty perhaps), but makes the orzo a beautiful color.  We went light on the nutmeg because Steve doesn't like it.  But who can argue with fresh grated Parmesan?  That, right there, is the reason I could probably never be a vegan.

Orzo with Kale

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 cups uncooked orzo pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, sliced
a little bit of water
1 bunch kale, stems removed and leaves coarsely chopped

1 large lemon, juiced
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, or to taste (the original recipe said 1/4 but I think you can never have enough Parmesan)
salt and black pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of lightly-salted water to a boil; sprinkle the turmeric over the boiling water and stir in the orzo; return to a boil. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the pasta has cooked through, but is still firm to the bite, about 11 minutes; drain. Scrape into a mixing bowl and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the garlic in the hot oil for a few seconds until it begins to bubble. Stir the kale into the garlic, dump in a little bit of water to prevent the kale from crisping, cover the skillet with a lid, and cook for about 10 minutes (checking occasionally to see how things are moving along). Remove the cover and continue cooking and stirring until the kale is tender, about 5-10 minutes more. Stir the kale mixture into the orzo along with the lemon juice, nutmeg, and Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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