An unwitting smile creeps in as I stand at my counter chopping something or rummaging through my fridge or pantry as an idea for a dish takes shape. It’s the thrill of a new idea–an idea built on a tried and true method to feed whomever will be at the table. Often it’s one ingredient that triggers the plan. In the case of this bowl of pasta risotto with leeks, cherry tomatoes, etc. , it was a pint of the very last of the cherry tomatoes a friend shared. And it was a recent facebook post by a friend asking what to do with little bits of different kinds of pasta that had accumulated in his pantry. If you cook (especially small shapes) pasta, like risotto (minus most of the stirring) you get a deliciously creamy result and precise cooking times don’t matter since you’re not after al dente!
This Pasta “Risotto” Template is going to get a lot of play this fall. I can’t wait to see what other combinations surface. And please share your ideas or variations if you make it. I can imagine a Thai-inspired version with coconut milk as some of the fat and/or liquid and cilantro and hot peppers and maybe rice noodles instead of regular pasta though they might get too gummy. . . Oh the fun of experimentation!
Pasta “Risotto” Template
Since this a template it should go without saying that you can vary it to suit your needs and taste; different shapes of pasta, stock or broth rather than water, cheese/no cheese, cream/no cream, herbs, spices . . . What you need is some small pasta, vegetables, hot liquid and a bit of fat in one form or another.
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil or butter or a combo
1 small onion, finely diced
1 leek, cleaned, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into thin strips
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or a little rosemary or sage or lots of parsley, etc.
1 pint cherry tomatoes or 1 1/2 cups canned, chopped tomatoes
1 cup orzo pasta (rice shaped pasta) or a combination of any very small pasta shapes. I used 2/3 orzo and 1/3 Israeli couscous in the above version
2 1/4 cups boiling water or stock or broth
2-3 cups finely chopped mustard greens, tender stems and all, or another tender green like spinach, beet greens, mizuna, turnip greens
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or other hard cheese, optional
1-2 tablespoon good olive oil or butter, to finish (to taste and optional)
Splash of heavy cream (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Heat oil or butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat and add onions, leeks and thyme and stir well. Sprinkle with salt and cook for about 5-7 minutes until softened. Meanwhile heat up your broth or water. Add tomatoes to onions and cook for 3-4 minutes until beginning to fall apart. Add pasta and hot water/broth and stir well. Add more salt here, unless you’re using salty broth. Stir well and partially cover and turn down to medium low. Cook for about 7 minutes, stirring once or twice. Then add the greens and stir well and cook for another few minutes until greens are as tender as you’d like them and pasta is cooked. Stir in the oil, butter and/or cheese, if using. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and/or pepper. Serve hot or warm.