Bursting with the flavors of fresh mint, toasted pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese, this easy orzo is the perfect side dish.
We have this great Daniel Tiger book about trying new foods (“Try a new food, it might taste good!”) and it has really helped Owen be open to tasting new things. What it hasn’t helped with though, is what happens if he doesn’t like something: without warning, he opens his mouth and lets the contents spill out down the front of his shirt and onto the table. It’s not spitting exactly because there is no force behind it, but it’s messy and gross nonetheless.
Last week I made him some buttered orzo as a side to go with roast salmon. He loves rice and he loves pasta, so I thought it would be a slam dunk. But no, out the mouthful tumbled (“I don’t like this rice Mommy!”) and after dinner I found myself on my hands and knees under the kitchen table, sweeping up tiny wayward pieces.
I also found myself with about 9/10ths of a box of leftover orzo, and so I made this: orzo with mint pesto and peas. It’s halfway between a pasta salad and a simple side dish, equally delicious hot or at room temperature, and bursting with bright summer flavors.
This pesto is one of my favorite things to whip up whenever I have extra mint on hand. It’s a great thing to have in the fridge because it’s so versatile. You can toss it with pasta, obviously, but it’s also delicious swirled into soups, spooned over grilled veggies, or spread over roast chicken or fish. The secret is to add a small handful of fresh spinach. You can’t taste it, but it helps preserve the pesto’s bright green color.
Cooking a box of orzo always makes me feel a little bit like Strega Nona. (Do you remember that book? I loved it so much as a kid!) It doesn’t seem like much at first, but you end up with so much pasta! This recipe yields enough to serve eight people as a hearty side dish. If you want to make less, you can easily halve it. You could also turn it into a main dish by tossing leftover shredded chicken, cooked shrimp, or cubed tofu.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, we are working on teaching Owen how to spit something discreetly into a napkin. 😬
Orzo with Mint Pesto and Peas
This flavorful orzo makes a great side dish for simply prepared chicken or fish. You might have a little bit of extra pesto leftover. It will keep for about a week in the fridge.
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For the mint pesto
- 1 cup loosely packed fresh mint
- 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil
- 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh spinach
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 (1-pound) box orzo
- 2 cups frozen peas
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
- To make the pesto, combine the mint, basil, spinach, garlic, pine nuts, salt, and pepper in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. With the motor running, slowly pour in the olive oil. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the Parmesan.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the orzo and cook until al dente (about 7 minutes). Put the peas in a colander in the sink. Drain the orzo over the peas (this will defrost and heat them). Transfer the drained orzo and peas back to the pot and stir in 2/3 of the pesto. Taste and add more pesto as needed (I used just about all of it). Stir in the Parmesan and pine nuts and sprinkle with the mint.
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