Easy Pesto Orzo Recipe – The New York Times
Sometimes the kitchen needs a last-minute miracle, and mine is always frozen pesto. At any moment, I can stir a spoonful of herbs and garlic into any dish that needs it, and take it to a whole new level.
In the world of perfect pesto, that frozen sauce is homemade—a blend of baby basil leaves, Italian pine nuts, and good olive oil that’s ground up by hand with a mortar and pestle.
But in my world, I usually reach for the food processor. I stir the elastic-leaf basil with olive oil and sliced almonds (instead of the more expensive pine nuts) until I get a puree thick enough to put in an ice cube tray for quick access when dinner approaches. (And if your frozen stash runs out, a good store-bought pesto is a reliable backup plan.)
Pesto is typically made for an al dente pasta dish, but it actually works great as an ingredient, adding color and garlicky verve to soups, stews, or, in this case, a one-pan orzo dish filled with summer zucchini and onions.
The key to bringing out the most flavor in one dish is to cook it in stages. First, I fry the zucchini and onions, letting them fry until dark golden. Try not to move the vegetables too much while they are cooking, as this may hinder the browning process. The darker it gets, the more flavor it will impart to the dish, leaving the bronze bits stuck to the bottom of the pan to form the base of the sauce.
Then, instead of cooking the orzo in water, I use broth, which infuses the pasta with flavor as the liquid turns into a silky sauce, added with lemon zest for brightness.
The pesto doesn’t appear until late in the game to maintain its freshness. Heating it for too long will tame the pungent bite of the garlic and dull the green sharpness of the basil. Start with 1/2 cup, which is enough to give the orzo a nice pesto character. For pesto stan you may want to add a little more, but taste as you go.
Finally, I stir in a Caprese-like mixture of seasoned mozzarella, sweet cherry tomatoes, and fresh mint. The cheese becomes soft but doesn’t completely melt, forming milky pockets to complement the tangy pesto. This perfect balance, easily created with pesto and cheese, is the true miracle on your plate.