This recipe is a hit among adults and kids! Some of our grandchildren even claimed that it is better than macaroni and cheese! It only takes about 30 minutes to make this recipe from beginning to end (it takes a bit longer if you add chicken). And you can use whatever vegetables you have on hand.
2 pounds orzo pasta
2 cups reserved pasta water or chicken broth
2-4 teaspoons olive oil
6 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 sweet onion, diced
4 medium chicken breasts, cut into chunks (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste (optional, to season chicken)
3 large red bell peppers, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
ounces white button mushrooms, sliced
2 pounds asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
teaspoon dried thyme
16 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt (add more to taste once everything's assembled)
Juice of 3 lemons
6 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the orzo
and cook according to package directions until tender
(but not overdone!).
2. When the orzo is ready, reserve 2 cups of the pasta water
and then drain the orzo and set aside. (You can use
chicken broth instead of pasta water if you forget to
reserve it or if you just like the taste of broth better!)
3. While the orzo cooks, in a large nonstick skillet, heat the
olive oil over medium heat. Put garlic and onion in the pan
and saute a little.
4. If you're using chicken, season the chicken with salt and
pepper. Add the chicken to the hot oil and brown on all
sides. When nicely browned (but not quite all the way
cooked through), add the peppers, mushrooms, asparagus,
5. If you're doing it without chicken, put the veggies in the
skillet and saute a bit, then add a tablespoon of water and
cover to let veggies steam and soften-5-10 minutes
depending on the hardness of the veggies used. Take lid off
and allow veggies to brown a bit. Stir until most of the liq- uid
has evaporated. Veggies shouldn't be totally done since they'll
cook a bit more once you add in the cheeses.
6. While the veggies cook, cut cream cheese into chunks
(about 6-8 chunks from each cube). When veggies are
mostly done, add the cream cheese and the grated parmesan
and stir so that the cream cheese melts and coats the
chicken and vegetables.
7. Add the reserved pasta water or chicken broth and bring to a
simmer. Add 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Stir.
8. Add the orzo, lemon juice, and fresh parsley. Stir to combine
and heat through.
9. Garnish with additional parmesan if you wish, and have
some lemon slices available to squeeze over the top of individual
portions if desired.