You know how sometimes you’re just putzing around in your kitchen and you remember some ingredient that’s been in the pantry for a while? You meant to use it before now, really you did! A perfectly good, even wonderful, ingredient like that little tin of some special something, that interesting package of pasta, dried beans, a grain of some type, that pesto. Well in my case it was, and is, orzo.
Now I’ve had many an orzo salad in my day, and many meat dishes with orzo used as a side. It’s a wonderful pasta and every single time I have it, I ask myself why I don’t make it more often. A few years ago I was in the position above, and it was Easter weekend and I was casting about for something to make for the two of us with what I had on hand that would be, well, Easter-ish or evocative of Spring in some way. Enter the orzo and this wonderfully simple concoction below. It’s so light with such lively flavors, and comes together so quickly, just my kind of dish. And it’s made with ingredients that I often have on hand in the spring, including asparagus…my favorite spring vegetable. We enjoyed this dish late in the day on Easter Sunday, along with a little spring dessert I’ll share with you later.
I love pantry inspirations, don’t you?
Orzo with Lemon, Asparagus and Ham
3 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 lb. fresh asparagus, end stem trimmed off, then cut into 1 inch pieces
Pinch of Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 lb. (8 oz.) cooked ham cut into 1/2 inch pieces or a combination of ham and prosciutto
1 lb. dried orzo
zest and juice of 1 lemon
Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano to serve
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add salt according to the package directions for the orzo.
Heat 2 Tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium low heat. Add the onion and cook until it is soft and transparent, about 4-5 minutes. Add the asparagus to the onion and season with a tiny pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Cook for 4 more minutes.
Add the orzo to the pot with the water boiling, and cook according to the package instructions, about 7 minutes to al dente. Add the ham (and prosciutto) to the asparagus and onion mixture, continue to cook until the asparagus is crisp-tender, and the ham is lightly browned. Turn the heat to low.
When the orzo is done, drain the water and then return the pasta to the pot, adding the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and stirring it through to coat. Add the orzo to the vegetable and ham mixture and stir to incorporate. Add the zest and the lemon juice, and season with more freshly ground black pepper, and another pinch of salt if you think it needs it to taste…I usually don’t. Stir to combine and rewarm gently, then turn off the heat and serve the orzo by itself or with a little freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Enjoy.