Under all those juicy tomato slices there sits a bubbling mass of orzo and vegetables - eggplant, carrots, celery, onions, garlic. I do believe that I got my five vegetables in one sitting this evening. Not to mention fresh oregano and lemon zest that filled the kitchen with the most wonderful smell, as this casserole did its magic in the oven!
The casserole ... one of the most underrated meal offerings on the planet. I have tended to think of casseroles as a Mom's last minute throw together - a dish one makes when one doesn't particularly want to cook - a dish that involves a can opener and various prepared soups, sauces, canned veg, and either potatoes, pasta, burger, or all three - something to throw together and then slap in the oven to bubble up while we move on to more interesting things like kids, laundry, the afternoon news or prep for an evening meeting.
Well, this casserole was one to disprove all those ideas. Ottolenghi has done it again ... used fresh herbs plus his signature lemon zest to perk up a super generous vegetable sauté, roasted orzo to make a risotto-like slurry of a casserole that bakes up in the oven while you turn your attention to a salad or, in my case, the first of the baby kale from the spring garden.
So ... can I hear it for the casserole ?
Yup ... dinner was tasty AND healthy this evening ...
This recipe came from Ottolenghi's cookbook Plenty More. The book happens to be one of the books that I've pulled to sit on my kitchen island ... it will be inspiring me this spring, as the garden and the area farmers' markets start giving us fresh local fare. Hurray!
Here's the recipe, as I made it ... I liked chicken broth, as opposed to vegetable broth. I liked a bit more olive oil and tomato paste than YO suggests. I liked the Parmesan cheese divided so that some could be sprinkled atop the tomatoes.
Yotam Ottolenghi's Baked Orzo with Mozzarella and Oregano
adapted just a bit, thank you!
Serves 4 ... generously!
9 tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 large eggplant, 1/2-inch dice
4 large carrots, peeled and 1/2 - inch dice
4 large stalks celery, 1/2-inch dice
1 large onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
9 oz. orzo pasta
2 tsp. tomato paste
1 3/4 c. chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
3 tbsp, fresh chopped oregano leaves
grated zest of one large lemon
4 oz. firm (dry) whole milk mozzarella, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
6 tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 - 3 fresh tomatoes, thickly sliced
a generous sprinkle of dried oregano
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
Making the Dish:
1. Heat 5 tbsp.of the olive oil in a deep sauté pan. Add the eggplant and let it brown up over medium-high heat for 8 minutes. Toss the eggplant pieces occasionally so that they brown up on as many sides as possible. Turn them out onto a plate and set aside.
2. Add another tbsp. of the olive oil to the hot pan and dump in the carrots and celery. Sauté for about 5 minutes, browning the vegetables nicely. Turn them onto the same plate as the eggplant.
3. Add another tbsp. of the olive oil and dump the onion and garlic into the pan. Saute for about 5 minutes, tossing frequently so you don't singe the garlic.
4. When the garlic is golden, add another tbsp olive oil and the orzo, tossing to coat the pasta with oil. let the orzo roast and when it begins to brown at the edges, add the tomato paste and the chicken broth. Turn the heat off under the pan and add the fresh oregano and the lemon zest. Let it rest a few minutes.
5. Turn the vegetables into the orzo mix, add half the Parmesan, the cubed mozzarella cheese, a generous pinch of Kosher salt, and 1/2 tsp. black pepper. Toss everything together and turn into a casserole pan.
6. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.
7. Lay the sliced tomatoes atop the orzo vegetable mix. Sprinkle on the dried oregano and a pinch more salt and black pepper.
8. Bake uncovered for 35 minutes in the prepped oven. At the 35 minute mark, sprinkle the second half of the Parmesan on and around the tomato slices and bake for another ten minutes. then, remove from the hot oven and let the casserole sit for a few minutes.
9. Drizzle the tomatoes with the last tbsp. of olive oil and serve with a green salad or a side vegetable dish.