baked orzo with mushrooms and pancetta
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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 is really funny – served like below to an undiscerning eater, it might well pass for risotto. I’ve wanted to cook oven risotto for ages – I can make a half decent classic on the hob, with the whole palaver of stirring, stirring, ladling in stock, trying a grain and realising, damn – still tough, then finally running out of steam (and stock), dumping extra butter and parmesan in and serving as al dente, hoping people will think it’s really authentic and Italian rather than undercooked.
So I thought – this is the trick, stick the rice and stock and all in the oven and put my feet up while it’s making completely by itself. Had the mushrooms on the ready, diced pancetta, Nigel Slater’s recipe when at the last minute I spotted orzo in my supermarket. Never cooked it before, pasta less fickle than rice – risotto went out of the window, in came ORZOTTO.
This is great and versatile. I went with the mushroom-pancetta combo but can imagine throwing any risotto-type ingredients in and ending up a success. The soft cheese is not really that necessary because it turns unctuous anyway, starchy and slightly gloopy but in a nice way.
Baked rice yet to come…
- 200g orzo pasta
- 400ml stock or the mushroom soaking liquid
- a small glass of white wine or vermouth (optional)
- 120g diced pancetta
- 1 spring onion, diced very fine
- 1 small leek, white part only, diced very fine
- 25g dried porcini mushrooms or a pouch or ready to use Merchant Gourmet mushrooms
- black pepper
- a few sun dried tomatoes in oil, drained
- a small piece of Camembert or Brie, diced (optional)
- 3-4 tbsp grated pecorino or parmesan
If you are using dried mushrooms, rehydrate them in at least a pint of boiling water and let them soak for an hour. Drain, chop roughly and reserve the soaking liquid.
In a big frying pan cook the pancetta until crispy, then remove and put aside. In the same pan cook the onion and leek, you might need to add a little butter.
Add the chopped soaked mushrooms or the contents of the ready-cooked pouch. Cook for a couple of minutes and throw the pasta into the pan with a glug of wine.
Stir it around and season with black pepper. Transfer everything into a baking dish, add the tomatoes, Camembert or Brie and pour over the mushroom liquid or stock.
Stir well and bake in the oven preheated to 200C/400F/gas 6 for about 35 minutes. You’ll need to stir it once or twice during that time to stop it from catching to the bottom of the dish.
Ten minutes before the end of the cooking time stir in some of the grated pecorino and sprinkle some on top, reserve a little to add straight onto the plates.