Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cheesy Orzo Baked in Acorn Squash

When I'm not feeling creative or am really busy, most squash that makes its way into my kitchen (and there's been a lot of it lately) is either roasted and pureed (butternut) or stuffed with grains and veggies and baked (acorn and festival). Even though these preparations aren't time-comsuming or elaborate, they are some of the most delicious ways to enjoy squash and this recipe certainly falls into that category. Quick-cooking orzo is combined with a few simple flavorings in a creamy blanket of milk and cheese for a fast and very satisfying dinner, perfect for Meatless Monday if you're a participant. This balanced plate of flavors-mildly sweet and soft squash, nutty whole wheat orzo, and salty, savory cheese-is sure to please your palate (and soul) on a dark, chilly winter evening. Although it's an easy, healthy dish, it can be made indulgent with whole milk or half-and-half, generous amounts of cheese, and crumbled bacon with a beautiful presentation that makes it elegant enough to serve for company. At whatever place in the indulgence spectrum you decide to jump in, I hope you give these charming cups of winter squash deliciousness a try.

Cheesy Orzo Baked in Acorn Squash
adapted from Bon Appetit, via Epicurious
serves 4

2 small acorn squash, halved, seeded
3/4 cup water
1 cup orzo (rice-shaped pasta; also called riso)
1 tablespoon butter
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or pressed through a garlic press
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup low-fat (1%) milk
1/2 cup canned vegetable broth
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Dash of hot pepper sauce (such as Tabasco), optional

1. Preheat oven to 400° F. Cut off thin slice from rounded side of each squash half. Arrange squash, open side down, in roasting pan. Add 3/4 cup water to pan. Cover tightly with foil. Bake until squash is tender about 35 minutes. Remove from oven; discard water. Turn squash open side up. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees F.

2. Meanwhile, cook orzo in pot of boiling salted water until almost tender, about 5 minutes. Drain. Return pan to medium heat and melt one tablespoon of butter. Add garlic and chopped onion and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are softened but not mushy, 7 to 10 minutes. Pour milk and broth into same pot; bring to boil. Add orzo; boil until liquid thickens and orzo is tender, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in cheddar and 2 tablespoons Parmesan. Season with hot pepper sauce, salt and pepper.

3. Divide orzo mixture among squash halves. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoon Parmesans. Bake until tops begin to brown, 8 to 12 minutes.

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