|Orzo Risotto with Spinach, Mushrooms and Bacon|
In a weak moment recently, I vaguely remember handing over my name and address to bon appétit magazine with the promise of free issues and the first two arrived recently. In their April 2014 issue, one of their featured articles is entitled Cook Like A Pro: Ten techniques for adding restaurant-worthy flavor to any meal. The sixth technique claims that "The Best Risottos Aren't Made with Rice" which goes on to suggest to substitute grains (i.e. barley, farro, wheat berries, etc.) for rice because they release enough starch to give the dish it's signature creaminess.
The idea is hardly original. In fact, I substituted potatoes for rice in a risotto about a year ago and I stirred orzo into braising fluid this past autumn. I wanted to focus on that the dish I made last fall because it really wasn't a risotto.
Apply the risotto method to orzo pasta.
I adapted elements of another risotto I published last summer, with one from Food & Wine magazine's website and a second one from SAVEUR magazine's website.
1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup boiling water
5 cups chicken stock
6 ounces bacon, cut into batons
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium-sized shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups orzo
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces spinach, washed with the stems removed
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
Juice from 1/2 lemon
1. Prepare the mushrooms. Combine the boiling water and the dried mushrooms in a small bowl. Allow the mushrooms to steep in the water until they are rehydrated, approximately 15 minutes. Strain the mushrooms through a paper towel-lined sieve (to catch any grit) into a medium saucepan. Add the chicken stock to the mushroom fluid and set aside. Chop the mushrooms and set aside separately.
2. Prepare the bacon. Bring the chicken stock mixture to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low to keep warm. Meanwhile, render the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until it's just shy of being crisp. Remove the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Reserve at least 1 tablespoon bacon fat and set aside separately.
3. Execute the risotto method. To the same skillet the bacon was cooked, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, sweat the shallots, approximately 3 minutes. Add in the garlic and stir until fragrant, approximately 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Stir in the orzo and thyme and toast for approximately 2 minutes, ensuring each grain of orzo is coated in oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Add the stock, 1 ladle at a time, stirring the orzo continuously until the fluid is adsorbed. Continue adding stock until the orzo is al dente, approximately 20 minutes.
Add the spinach, reserved bacon and mushrooms and stir until the spinach wilts, approximately 1 minute. Stir in the reserved bacon fat, cream, parmesan and lemon juice. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, if necessary. Served in warmed bowls.
Both Mrs. Stuntman and I enjoyed this dish and she requested I serve it again. Interestingly, it was reminiscent of Rice-A-Roni due to the flavors of bacon and mushrooms.
One thing I haven't addressed yet is the new season of Next Food Network Star. Have you watched it? My early favorite to win is Loreal. She's got the most unique point of view I've seen in years and she seems to be able to handle herself in front of the camera well. Right behind her I'd put Lenny. He also seems to be well qualified but I'm not sure if I'd watch his show. I predict Aryen will be one of the next ones to be eliminated because, according to the judges her food has been bland. What are your thoughts?