Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Creamy Parmesan Orzo with Veggies

It's finally September and I *think* that the Bookworm family is back in the swing of things.  The kids are in school, I've filled out the mountain of paperwork for each of the kids (who, I might add, are in three different schools this year).  I have also resumed my regular work schedule and all of the craziness of extracurricular activities commences.

It's weeks like last week (the first week of school here) that make me long for the lazy days of summer when I only had to nag my kids to eat breakfast before it technically became afternoon.  When driving to my parents' for a swim was the most strenuous thing I did all day ... unless you count getting dressed in something other than a bathing suit and cover-up.  Oh summer, wherefore art thou?!?  I'll take the kid arguments and the 'I'm boooored's if I can get back those lazy, less crazy days.  Sadly, I think summer is on it's way out.

Although I'll miss our summer lack of schedule I will admit that I've been looking forward to some major fall cooking.  Stews, roasts, chilis .... delish!  That said cooking doesn't have to take a lot of time.  During the 4 out of 5 weekdays when our kids have something going on I have to have suppers that are fairly easy to prep and make.  Well, I don't 'have to' but it makes holding onto my sanity that much easier if supper comes together with less fuss.

This is a recipe that I whipped up during the summer and Brad and I loved it.  My suspicious spawn were less thrilled with it at first glance.  See, my kids just don't trust orzo.  It looks like rice but it's a pasta ... and this fact confuses some of my kids.  These are the kids who abhor rice and who therefore look upon wee orzo with very suspicious stink eyes. 

But, I came to the table armed with a plan.  I figured the Parmesan and bacon would entice them enough to try this dish with less than normal fuss ... and I was right.  I will admit that they ate around the julienned pieces of zucchini and mushrooms (a miracle worker orzo is not) but I'll take what I can get.

This is a pretty easy and fairly quick meal that you can whip up after you get home from taking Kid 1 to the dentist but before you rush Kid 2 out the door for hockey practice and Kid 3 to swimming lessons.

1 1/4 cup orzo pasta, uncooked
6 slices of bacon, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 cups precooked chicken cut into bite-sized pieces
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8oz white mushrooms, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 small zucchini, julienned
1 tsp thyme
4 oz cream cheese, softened and cut into small cubes
1 cup of the reserved pasta water
1 1/2 cups baby spinach, stems removed and roughly chopped
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/3 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
juice from 1/2 lemon

Bring water in a large pot to a boil.  Add orzo and cook according to package directions until it is tender.  Reserve 1 cup of the water you just cooked the orzo in and set aside.  Drain orzo, rinse well with cool water and set aside.

As the orzo is cooking, in a large skillet sauté the bacon over medium heat until cooked but not crispy.  Remove cooked bacon to a paper towel-lined dish and set aside.  Remove all but approximately 2 teaspoons of bacon drippings from the pan.  Add precooked chicken pieces (I used frozen, precooked chicken so I sautéed it a little longer to get rid of the excess moisture).  Brown chicken on all sides, the add the red bell pepper, mushrooms and garlic.  Cook for 3 minutes then add the julienned zucchini and the thyme and continue cooking for another 2 minutes or until the peppers and zucchini have slightly softened.  

Add the cream cheese cubes to the chicken mixture and stir until the cream cheese has melted and is mixed well with the chicken and vegetables.  Add the reserved pasta water, baby spinach, salt and pepper.  Bring to a simmer and allow the mixture to thicken up a bit.

Add cooked orzo, Parmesan cheese and fresh lemon juice.  Stir well and serve with additional black pepper and grated Parmesan cheese.

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