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Still have some openings in upcoming classes, which begin next Thursday, April 16, 5-8pm at Shouse Appliance in Colorado Springs.   There are  two available spots each in the FRENCH CLASS, April 16 and in the BRUNCH class (we’re learning how to make homemade sausage!), April 25, as well in the rest of the series.  Click at top on CURRENT CLASSES for list and registration info. Can’t wait to cook with you!

Orzo, the tiny rice-like pasta, and vegetables is a favorite combination of mine and you’ll see it on the blog a time or two. Or more. This particular comforting oh-so-green pasta dish, which is easily made vegan, seems to catapult spring vegetables such as asparagus, fennel, and baby spinach way up onto their long-awaited pedestal.  It also feels and nearly looks like risotto minus the questionably constant stirring, angst, and jaw-clenching risotto seems to engender. While it bubbles away nearly untended, you can look to other occupations like pouring wine, chatting,  setting the table, or if you’re like me, petting Rosie–just spayed and not too happy with it. Poor baby. She does like the pills that come all wrapped up in cream cheese for easy swallowing.

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For other meals, I cook orzo separately and make a heartier dish or pasta salad, adding feta, tiny tomatoes, celery or peas, basil or parsley, and a vinaigrette. Either variation is easy to make ahead early on a warm day for a potluck or as a bed for that night’s grilled fish, shrimp, chicken or chops. You can find regular orzo easily in the pasta aisle of your B-flat grocery store, but there are also some brands that sell the whole-wheat variety, which adds fiber and protein.  Try this:

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ONE-PAN ORZO “RISOTTO” WITH ASPARAGUS, FENNEL, AND CHERRY TOMATOES

serves 4

This dish adapts to what you have on hand (think peas or young beans instead of asparagus), is naturally gluten-free (check all labels,) and is simply made into a vegan dish with a few indicated changes noted in green. If you don’t have all the vegetables, make it anyway. Sub red onions for the scallions or throw in frozen peas instead of the spinach.  You’ll still be very happy. Leftovers good for lunch hot or cold.

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  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound asparagus, trimmed, and cut into one-inch pieces*
  • 1 fennel bulb, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions or ramps, divided. Use white/lt. green for cooking; dark-green for garnish.
  • Kosher salt/Fresh ground pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups orzo (about 1/2 pound or 8 ounces)
  • 4 cups (32 ounces) chicken broth –Sub vegetable broth for vegan version; check label for Gluten-Free, if purchasing broth.
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh lemon rind
  • Pinch crushed red pepper or to taste, optional
  • 1 cup chopped fresh spinach, optional
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan shards –2-3 ounces (Use a peeler to get the shards off the wedge of cheese) OR 1/2 cup sliced, toasted almonds for the vegan version
  • 8 sliced cherry tomatoes for garnish

1. Heat olive oil for two minutes over medium heat in a large, deep skillet or sauté pan. Add chopped asparagus and the fennel; sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon each kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; cook for 5 minutes or so.  Add chopped white and light green chopped scallions, garlic, and orzo.  Stirring regularly, let cook 3 minutes or so.

2. Pour in 4 cups chicken/vegetable broth; bring to boil.  Reduce heat and cook uncovered, simmering and stirring regularly, until orzo is almost done–about 10 minutes. Add a little water or more broth if the orzo begins to stick or is too thick, but not yet done. Stir in 2 teaspoons grated lemon rind, a pinch of crushed red pepper if desired, and the spinach, if using.

3. Serve while orzo is hot and creamy topped with a few large shards of Parmesan cheese or almonds, a little of the reserved chopped dark-green scallions, and two of the cherry tomatoes for each serving.  Pass the pepper grinder at the table.

*If you’d like, you can save out the asparagus tips and add them towards the end of cooking– 2-3 minutes before the orzo is done or even cook them separately and add as with the garnishes.

WINE:  I’d try a little Sauvignon Blanc with this to ping up those grassy flavors–maybe not a New Zealand one. California or France.  A California Fumé Blanc would work and is one of my favorites.

COOK’S NOTE:  If choosing Gluten-Free option, please check labels on any purchased ingredients for information on gluten.

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Note to self:  Don’t turn CHOPPED on while developing and cooking new recipe.  I almost felt badly I wasn’t incorporated vanilla malted milk, gummy bears, or sardine paste.

Sing a new song; cook some orzo,

Alyce