I made this for dinner Sunday night. I was cooking up a storm for our big family get together and I needed something fast and easy that my kids were likely to eat. I've been having a love affair with orzo the last little while. This versatile little beauty has become one of my favorite things to cook with. You can find it in the pasta aisle at most grocery stores. It cooks up quickly and is more fun to eat than most other pasta shapes, with the exception of the wagon wheels--those are pretty cool. I didn't have any mushrooms in the fridge, so I used asparagus, but feel free to use whatever you have on hand. Summer squash, peas, even green beans or fresh tomatoes. The sky's the limit!
Creamy Orzo with Chicken, Mushrooms and Red Peppers
12" dutch oven
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 average-sized chicken breasts (about 1 to 1 1/2 pounds), cut into chunks
2 red bell peppers, cut into ½-inch pieces
8 ounces white button mushrooms, quartered (I used asparagus)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 pound orzo pasta
8 ounces cream cheese, softened (can use 1/3 less fat cream cheese)
1 cup reserved pasta water
1/4-1/2 cup milk or cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. I used a 10" dutch oven with a full spread of coals. Add the orzo and cook according to package directions until tender. When the orzo is ready, reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and then drain the orzo and set aside.
While the orzo cooks, in a 12" dutch oven heat the olive oil over medium heat (I used a full spread of coals). Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Add the chicken to the hot oil and brown on all sides. When nicely browned (but not all the way cooked through), add the peppers, mushrooms and thyme. Stir and let cook for about 5-8 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the mushrooms and peppers have softened and browned and most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add the softened cream cheese in bite sized chunks and stir so that the cream cheese melts and coats the chicken and vegetables. Add the reserved pasta water and enough milk or cream to give it the desired consistency and bring to a simmer. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir. Add the orzo, Parmesan, lemon juice and fresh parsley. Stir to combine and heat through. Garnish with additional Parmesan and parsley. Serves 8-10.
The Finished Product
This was absolutely delicious! It was also fast. Start to finish about 40 minutes in the dutch oven, in my kitchen I could have had it done in 30 minutes flat. It is a perfect week night meal. It also makes a ton! This fed all 9 of us and we still had leftovers. You could use just about any combination of veggies you wanted, but in my opinion, asparagus is a must. The lemon juice really brightens up the whole dish, so don't leave that out either. The whole family gave this one an easy A.