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baked orzo with mushrooms and pancetta

Updated: Fri, 7 October, 2022

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Baked orzo pasta with fragrant dried mushrooms and cubed pancetta is creamy like risotto, without any of the hard work. It’s orzotto, and it’s baked in the oven.

baked orzo with pancetta and mushrooms cuisinefiend.com

Risotto is hard work

Who doesn’t love risotto? The problem with cooking it properly is that it’s such a chore.

The whole palaver of stirring, stirring, ladling in stock, tasting a grain and realising that it’s still tough, then finally running out of steam and stock, dumping extra butter and Parmesan in and professing it’s al dente, hoping people will think it’s authentic and Italian rather than undercooked…

A chore, like I said.

orzo pasta bake with mushrooms and pancetta cuisinefiend.com

Orzotto is a doddle

Orzo is a pasta shape that looks like rice. This dish served to an undiscerning eater might well pass for risotto.

It’s creamy, even though there’s no cream or milk in it, and very little butter. It has wonderful, unctuous texture and occasional crusty bits stuck to the bottom of the pan, like an Italian version of paella’s crusty bottom.

It’s mushroomy like the best mushroom risotto, earthy like the forest, with dice of pancetta for interest and a meaty boost. It’s a perfect dish.

And the best thing about it is that you place the pasta, stock and all in dish, slip it into the oven and you can put your feet up while it’s making completely by itself.

I call it orzotto because of the creaminess and the funny pasta shapes. Those Italians! Not enough for them to make pasta in the shape of radiators, ears, bow ties, wagon wheels – they also make pasta that masquerades as rice.

orzo and pancetta bake cuisinefiend.com

How to make baked mushroom and pancetta orzo

So how exactly is it made? Very easily. If you have an oven proof casserole dish or deep skillet, you can prepare it from start to finish in one pan. But even doing it like I do, it’s not much hassle.

Dried porcini mushrooms are available from most supermarkets or specialist retailers and it is worth getting those mushrooms rather than a random dried wild mushroom mix, which might not be all that wild at all.

Alternatively, but dried shiitake or wood ear fungi from an Asian outlet – those will have nice flavour and deep fragrance too.

creamy baked orzo cuisinefiend.com

Can fresh mushrooms be used instead?

It’s a natural question to ask but the answer is no. Some products specifically need to be used in their dried preparation, for various reasons. Would you use fresh grapes in your fruitcake instead of raisins? I thought not.

Dried wild mushrooms, porcini a.k.a. ceps in particular are impossibly fragrant and flavoursome when rehydrated. Plus, the soaking liquid serves as stock in this case, and in any case don’t ever throw it away.

For the baked orzo dish, be generous: use about 20-25g of dried mushrooms and pour them over with half a litre/2 pints of boiling water.

Cover the container and let them sit for at least half an hour like that. They will rehydrate, swell up and start to smell wonderful. After that time scoop them out, squeeze out excess liquid back into the container and chop them roughly.

soaking dried mushrooms cuisinefiend.com

Pancetta or bacon?

Pancetta is the Italian equivalent of bacon but it is actually closer to cured ham, prosciutto, than smoked streaky.

It is salted, cured and air-dried, and never smoked. It is also overall less salty than bacon, so if you want or need to swap, limit the salt addition. I prefer it in dishes like this, precisely because it tastes like ham even if it is rather fatty.

Pancetta starts the cooking process: fried until crispy. If indeed there is an awful lot of fat rendered, you can spoon some of it off the pan and reserve for other uses.

Onions join the pancetta to sweat briefly, then chopped mushrooms and a tablespoon of tomato puree – amazing how tomato enhances mushroom flavour.

cooking pancetta and mushrooms cuisinefiend.com

If you’re using just one, ovenproof dish, take it off the heat and add dry past to the mix. Otherwise place the pasta in a clean casserole and scrape the contents of the pan into it.

The mushroom soaking liquor, our stock, should be boiling so heat it up on the hob or with a blast of the microwave.

Add salt to it - but watch out if you’re cooking it with bacon – and taste. Pour it into the pasta dish and stir it thoroughly, with a good few grindings of the black pepper mill.

It should be ready in just over half an hour but give it a stir halfway through, to check it isn’t sticking horribly. If the liquid is all absorbed and the pasta still very al dente, add a splash of water.

By the very end stir in half the grated Parmesan and use the rest to sprinkle over plates or bowls when serving.

how to make an orzo bake cuisinefiend.com

More pasta bake recipes

Baked ziti, penne or rigatoni with bacon and roasted aubergine: it does not drown in cheese or tomato sauce, and it is not a million calories like your usual pasta bake.

Carbonara pasta bake, with bacon, Pecorino and egg yolks. No cream added and only a little cheese make the dish a little skinnier but just as delicious.

Provolone pasta bake with homemade tomato marinara sauce. The best vegetarian pasta casserole recipe, with the tastiest sauce; topped with provolone which is the best melting cheese for pasta al forno dishes.

orzo baked with porcini and pancetta cuisinefiend.com



baked orzo with mushrooms and pancetta

Servings: 2-4Time: 1 hour

INGREDIENTS

  • 20g dried porcini (cep) mushrooms
  • 450g boiling water
  • 120g diced pancetta
  • 1 small onion
  • ½ tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 200g orzo pasta
  • 1 tsp salt
  • black pepper
  • 3 tbsp grated Parmesan


METHOD

1. First rehydrate the mushrooms by soaking them in the boiling water, leave for about an hour. Drain, chop roughly and reserve the soaking liquid.

2. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6.

3. In a medium frying pan cook the pancetta until crisp.

4. Peel and finely dice the onion, add to the pancetta with the butter.

5. Add the chopped mushrooms and cook together briefly. Stir in the tomato puree.

6. Place the pasta in an oven dish, preferably with lid. Scrape the pancetta mix into the dish and season with black pepper.

7. Heat up the reserved mushroom liquid and ads the salt to it, taste for seasoning. Pour it into the pasta dish (there should be about 400ml liquid) and stir well.

8. Bake for about 35 minutes. You’ll need to stir it halfway through to stop it from catching to the bottom of the dish.

9. Just before the end of the cooking time stir in half the Parmesan and sprinkle some on top.

10. Serve sprinkled with the remaining Parmesan.

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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