The most indulgent and luxurious side dish possible for chicken or veal: baked creamy orzo with wild mushrooms is also a standalone vegetarian main fit for a king.
What is orzo?
Orzo is the funny pasta shape that pretends it’s rice. But it’s also the easiest pasta shape to turn into a wonderfully sumptuous dish, perfect for a dinner party, a special night in or just because you feel like it.
Orzo can be boiled then drained, like a regular pasta. But it can also be cooked like rice, only better and easier: combined with about twice the volume of liquid it can be left to its own devices in the oven. After half an hour or so, the most wonderful, perfectly cooked pasta bake dish emerges.
How to cook orzo in the oven?
For that bake, you can use simply water and seasoning, or stock, chicken or vegetable. The resulting pasta will be fluffy and slightly crisp around the edges.
Anything can go into it to make a wholesome dish. I often cook it with mushrooms and pancetta, the staples for a nice pasta dish. But orzo is so versatile, you can add whatever you fancy: tomatoes, chicken, spinach, even minced beef.
The additional ingredients need to be cooked in an ovenproof dish first, with a little oil or butter. Then the dry pasta goes in, and everything is drowned with liquid. That’s all, we can forget about it whilst it’s baking, bar perhaps a stir halfway through.
But this recipe makes an even more wonderful - because creamy - orzo bake. And when in season, I top it with sauteed wild mushrooms. Chanterelles (aka girolles), pied de mouton, black trumpets or the most prized ceps or porcini will make it an exceptional treat.
But if it’s outside wild mushroom season, a mix of shiitake, oysters or king oysters and similar so called ‘wild and exotic’ will do better than the ordinary, not very flavoursome champignons.
How to make your orzo creamy?
By adding cream, what a silly question! But to be specific, you still need stock or water and anyway cooking the pasta in two pints of cream would clog your arteries on sight alone.
A little double cream is sufficient, or it can be replaced with cream cheese. Plus some creamy soft cheese, blue or Brie-type will work well on the creaminess. Add the creamy agent to the stock and the cheese in chunks directly to the dish with the pasta.
How to cook wild mushrooms?
Even chanterelles are quite pricey to buy in the UK. And if it’s your foraged crop, you want to waste it even less so it’s important to cook them right.
Wild mushrooms are best sauteed quickly, in butter with parsley. You can add cream but in this instance it would be overkill as they are supposed to be the topping for already creamy pasta.
Cleaned and chunkily chopped chanterelles will be lovely cooked in foaming butter, with salt and pepper added at the end of cooking, to avoid drawing out excessive moisture.
The mushrooms will release juices anyway but keep cooking and the juices will be re-absorbed and the mushrooms will start to look like sauteed rather than stewed. Seasoning, a sprinkle of chopped parsley and they’re done.
Can I use another pasta shape?
That’s a good question! Small shapes will work fine in this recipe: orecchiette, trofie or stellette.
There are also mini-versions of bigger pasta: farfalline or zittini which would be suitable. Any large shapes risk being unevenly cooked, too al dente or the opposite as all shapes have their individual cooking times.
Creamy orzo as a side dish
It is absolutely excellent with any Italian meat main course. Chicken Milanese or saltimbocca goes very well with creamy orzo, as does scaloppine in vino bianco – veal in white wine sauce.
It goes well with fish too, pan fried fish fillet or whole baked sea bass or bream.
More baked pasta recipes
Aubergine and tomato pasta bake is simple, easy to make and vegetarian.
If you want a different take on a pasta bake with mushrooms, try penne baked with leeks and mushrooms.
And for a meaty pasta bake, here’s conchiglioni with beef ragu.
More wild mushrooms recipes
If you’re lucky to have enough foraged crop for a lunchtime treat, make sauteed wild mushrooms.
If you have only a handful of chanterelles, serve them on toast.
And finally, chanterelles make a lovely sauce for turkey steaks.