I am a huge fan of risotto but it can take quite a bit of effort to make, all that stirring and making sure things don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Sometimes that stirring is soothing and relaxing but for busy days I am always on the lookout for new ideas to beat the risotto workload but still get a great risotto taste. One of my favourite risottos is this chicken and leek baked risotto. A friend of mine made it and he said it didn’t taste enough like a risotto to him. I think he felt the rice wasn’t separated enough for a risotto, it was more a rice casserole. I am not as fussy and to me it is just an amazing dinner that doesn’t require too much work but it may not meet your classic risotto desires.
A little while ago I made this veal paprikash with orzo and what struck me about the orzo (risoni) was that it had an almost risotto quality to it. Then on one of my food trawling expeditions I do on the internet I saw orzo being used as an alternative to rice in a risotto style recipe. Little cogs started to whir in my brain as the orzo had been quicker to cook than rice normally takes in a risotto. And I while I still had to stir, the orzo hadn’t felt like it was sticking quite as much as rice does and if I wandered away for a minute or two it wasn’t going to be quite the disaster that it can be with rice (but you still need to keep a close eye on it).
Given this was my first attempt using orzo as a substitute for rice, I stuck to some basic risotto ingredients. I love my favourite mushroom risotto too much to mess with that recipe, I am not the hugest fan of risottos with red meat and I am not confident with prawns in risotto. Hence the chicken and pea orzo (risoni).
The recipe turned out even better than I expected. It took less time than my mushroom risotto and the orzo came out so nice and creamy. I probably overcooked it in the first time around so taste as you go and when you are happy with the orzo take it off the stove. Having said that I quite liked the overcooked version, it tasted quite comforting in its creamy sloppiness. It may not be quite risotto like in texture and taste but it is pretty close and tastes amazing.
The added bonus of this recipe is that it is a proper one pot meal that has vegetables in it. You get your protein, carbs and veggies all in one pot. I used frozen peas as they are easy to keep on hand in the freezer and need so little cooking but you could mix it up with other vegetables. But they may need some extra cooking first and then it wouldn’t be one pot.
I am going to be trying out some other flavour combinations using the orzo as my base. What would you add in?
- 1/2 tbs of olive oil
- 1 tsp minced garlic (equal to one clove)
- 1/4 brown onion, finely diced
- 130g skinless chicken breast, cut in to one inch cubes
- 1/4 cup of orzo (risoni)
- 60ml white wine
- 1 and 1/2 cups of chicken stock
- 1/2 cup of frozen peas - run under cold water to defrost slightly and remove any ice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tbs of parmesan cheese, grated
- In a heavy bottomed pan heat the oil on a medium-low heat
- Add the onion and garlic to the pan and cook for about 3 minutes until the onions have softened
- Add the chicken to the pan, turn the heat up to medium-high and cook the chicken until it is sealed on all sides - about 3-5 minutes. Stir as you go so the chicken cooks evenly.
- Add the orzo (risoni) to the pan and coat with the oil, stir the orzo for a couple of minutes to make sure the coating is fairly even.
- Add the wine and cook until the wine has almost entirely absorbed in to the orzo. Stirring constantly.
- Add a ladle of chicken stock and cook until almost entirely absorbed, stirring constantly.
- Add another ladle of chicken stock and repeat previous step until absorbed, remembering to stir.
- Keep gradually adding chicken stock, tasting the orzo as you go along until it is cooked to the texture you want. Strictly speaking this should be al dente but I like mine a bit softer. This should take about 10-15 minutes. You also need to make sure the chicken is cooked.
- Stir the peas in about half way through incorporating the chicken stock.
- Once the orzo has the texture you want and the chicken is fully cooked, season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve in a bowl and garnish with the parmesan cheese.