Wolf declared this the best pesto he’s ever had. I laughed, made a “yeah, whatever” face and said, “You’re just hungry.”
It’s the same basil pesto I’ve been making for years and there’s nothing all that unusual about it. I don’t put pine nuts in it and I add a squeeze of lemon juice to stave off discoloration. So, why talk about it? We made a discovery the other night. The secret here is maximum pesto, minimum noodle.
The difference here is the orzo. Fast fact, it means “barley” in Italian. I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with orzo. For the last little while, we’ve been on the outs. While every other noodle shape seems to cycle through the pantry, half of a box of orzo had been sitting in a container unused and unconsidered, until one night a couple of weeks ago. Wolf wasn’t home and I was in the kitchen, half watching tv, half scrolling through Twitter and I was too lazy to make something real for dinner. There was that orzo, just sitting there, so I made a lazy mac and cheese with a nub of butter and a whole lot of parmesan. Me and orzo, we were on again.
The beauty of orzo – it’s quick. If you’re just making a cup, you don’t have to boil a huge pot of water to get them ready to go. And in that sense, it’s just as easy as the blue box, if you’re thinking of making that mac and cheese riff.
For pesto, we usually use a penne regate or a farfalle so the pesto can catch in the nooks and crannies, but they’re fairly big noodles compared to the teeny tiny orzo grains. Orzo’s advantage is the pesto fully covers all available surface area, that when delivered to your taste buds, creates maximum pesto flava.
There is one minor downside. Orzo never looks like a main dish. Even if you were to add a little grilled chicken to this pesto to make it a heartier meal, it still says, “I’m a side.” But you’ll get over that, this orzo pesto has too much upside to get bogged down. It’s quick, it serves well at room temperature and whatever’s left makes a great lunch the next day.
Simple Basil PestoPrint Recipe
- 1 4 oz. package basil leaves, rinsed and air-dried
- 2 small garlic cloves
- 1/2 c. grated parmesan + more for garnish
- juice of half a lemon
- ~1/4 c. olive oil
- 8-10 cherry tomatoes, halved
- kosher salt
- 1 c. orzo, cooked according to package directions
Put the basil leaves into the bowl of a food processor. Add the parmesan cheese and garlic. Pulse 8-10 times until the basil is broken down into small bits. Add the lemon juice and pinch of salt.
With the machine running, pour in the olive oil until it forms a loose paste.
If not using immediately, store in a small container with plastic wrap pressed against the surface of the pesto.
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Salt generously. Add the orzo and cook for 7-9 minutes, or as directed on the package. Drain the orzo, but do not rinse it and put it into a large bowl. Stir in the cherry tomatoes, letting the heat from the pasta cook them slightly. Set aside for 10-15 minutes to let the orzo cool.
Stir in the pesto until evenly distributed. Pour onto a serving plate and garnish with more parmesan, to taste.