Sunday, January 31, 2010

Baked Orzo and (Faux) Meatballs

This dish has a few strikes against it, blog-wise. First off, I make my version with fake meatballs, which I realize are not a universal favorite (although you can easily substitute the real meaty deal instead). Secondly, it's kinda ugly. Just a homely casserole, and not helped by my low-light pictures. I first discovered this dish a few months ago, and loved it. But I was a bit too embarassed to bring its homeliness into high resolution. But when I made it for the third time in two months, I figured its day had come. Admittedly, it's a far cry from fancypants dinner party fare. But oh man is it delicious.

Living with a lactard, I've learned to go without comforting baked pasta dishes -- it's really hard to find one that isn't bound with lashings of cheese or cream sauce. But this orzo is different. A base of aromatic onions, celery, and pepper are sauteed up, made saucy with tomatoes, and baked with slippery bits of orzo pasta. The whole mess is topped with meatballs (faux or otherwise), and a sprinkling of sheep's milk feta (which is deemed easily digestible by our household dietary restrictions). It's one-pot easy, satisfying, and delicious. Really delicious. Well worth swallowing your pretty-food pride.

Baked Orzo and (Faux) Meatballs

adapted from Ivy's Feast

serves 4-6

If you don't have a stovetop-to-oven pot like a Dutch oven, you can prepare this in a large sautee pan, and then transfer to a casserole dish to bake. As written, this recipe features a balanced mix of vegetables, rather than a strong tomatoey flavor. If you'd like it saucier, substitute the additional tomato sauce for part of the water (details below). Both variations are nice.

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 small yellow or green bell pepper, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 15-oz can chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup tomato sauce (optional)
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried dill
1 1/2 cups orzo
4 - 4 1/3 cups water or broth
salt and pepper
4 oz feta, crumbled
1 1-lb package of faux meatballs, or an equivalent amount of standard meatballs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, and bell pepper, and sautee until the vegetables are softened and the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, and sautee another minute. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce (if using), and dried seasoning, and stir to combine. Add the orzo, and mix well. Turn off the heat.

If you're using a Dutch oven, add the broth or water (the smaller amount if using the tomato sauce, the larger amount if not). If you don't have a Dutch oven, transfer the vegetable-orzo mixture to a casserole dish now, and then add the broth. Season to taste with salt and pepper (keeping in mind that the feta will contribute a bit more salt). Cover, and transfer to the oven. Bake 30 minutes.

While the orzo is baking, prepare the meatballs according to directions (I usually just throw them in a baking pan alongside the casserole, to crisp up while the oven is on). If using meatballs, pan-fry until done.

After 30 minutes, remove the casserole from the oven. Scatter the meatballs over the top, pressing them down into the orzo. Sprinkle with feta, cover, and return to the oven for 10-15 minutes, until the liquid is mostly absorbed, and the feta is melting. Remove from the oven, and let stand for an additional 10 minutes (the remaining liquid should absorb). Enjoy.


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