If you’re looking for a new side dish to grace your Thanksgiving table, give orzo a try.
Orzo is a type of tiny pasta that looks like grains of rice. The word “orzo” comes from the Latin word for barley (hordeum), because orzo was originally made from that grain. Today orzo, like other types of pasta, is made with semolina flour. While orzo is found frequently in salads at summer potlucks, it is equally good when mixed with the classic flavors of fall – squash, Gorgonzola cheese and fresh sage.
Butternut squash is fantastic this time of year, and easy to find. While the squash may look intimidating, a sharp knife can generally make short work of it. Split the squash in half lengthwise (or ask your grocer to do it for you before you take it home), scoop out the seeds and pulp, and roast it until tender. Then scoop the squash out of the skin with a spoon or butter knife, much like cutting an avocado.
If even that seems like too much work, check the Trader Joe’s in Los Altos – it sells precut cubes of butternut squash in its produce section this time of year. If you go that route, simply toss the cubes with a little olive oil and roast in a foil-lined casserole dish at 425 F until tender. One pound of squash cubes is comparable to a medium-sized whole squash.
While your squash is roasting, cook your orzo according to the directions on the package. Or, if you have extra time and energy, make the orzo risotto-style, adding hot broth a little at a time to get a creamier effect. It won’t taste quite like risotto made with arborio rice, but it will still be delicious.
Once the squash and orzo are done, combine them in a large serving bowl and crumble in some Gorgonzola cheese while the pasta is still hot so the cheese will melt a bit. Thinly slice a few sage leaves and mix everything together. Serve while still warm, and your guests will think you slaved over this for hours.
Don’t have enough room in the oven for squash and the turkey and fixings? Roast the squash the day before and refrigerate the cubes. Reheat in the microwave the next day and add to the freshly cooked pasta.
Don’t like butternut squash, Gorgonzola or sage? Orzo is a lovely blank canvas for all sorts of wonderful flavors, so mix in whatever you like with this versatile pasta. Try fresh baby spinach and a milder cheese like Jack or cheddar. Feta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and kalamata olives would also be fantastic, though maybe not alongside the traditional turkey and cranberries.