Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Zucchini Orzo

Cheap Eat Challenge, Part 2: Watch as our family of 6 eats on less than $10/day.

Now you see the zucchini...

Now you don't.

Which is one of the many many wonderful things about this recipe. If there are people in your family willing to consume large amounts of vegetable with their pasta, you can leave the skin of your zucchini on and include any of a number of other delicious and colorful vegetable add-ins (tomatoes, peppers, olives, peas...). If the people in your family would rather see their fingernails ripped off than know that their pasta contains a vegetable not in sauce form, then you merely peel the skins off the zucchini and I'll be darned if they don't get completely lost in that orzo. And just in case they're not completely lost, you can slather that stuff in a nice red tomato sauce and, by gum, they will be.

But first a few words on hiding one's vegetables in unsuspecting white starchy foods. I have a friend who studied nutrition who believes very strongly that hiding vegetables instead of serving them straight up just develops unhealthy habits in children (and, cough, husbands). She believes that while they may end up eating their hidden vegetables, they will not learn to be accepting of those poor vegetables that have the misfortune of actually looking the part, and that this will inhibit their making of healthy choices throughout life. I agree with my friend wholeheartedly. I believe that sometimes vegetables must be seen instead of just heard, um--tasted, um, whatever. Kids need to get used to trying things that don't look like a cookie or taste like a cookie or have a nifty cartoon character on the box.

And yet. And yet. There are those times. I think most of you know what times I mean--those times when a hapless vegetable is simply so unloved that something must be done to get the little guy in the gate. Or times when your kid is going through a little vegetable strike (Hello Emma). Or when you don't want a big fight at dinner. Or times when you, in your perfectly clueless first few years of parenting--years in which you may or may not have allowed your oldest child to have a peanut butter sandwich or a bowl of cereal every night for dinner because the little dear just wouldn't eat anything else and you were so (hands wringing) concerned that the little guy would perish from his own perfectly darling stubbornness that you gave in every night even though every other mother who had been a mother of more than one child for more than 60 seconds counseled you not to give in--yes, you may be one of those parents who may or may not (this is not a place of judgment) have neglected to develop said healthy habits in your children and therefore must resort to measures of stealth. At least occasionally while you backtrack and try to make up for lost vegetable time and establish some better habits, conking your head on the countertop wondering why--why I ask you--you did not listen to those more experienced mothers and tell little Junior Cute Cheeks to eat up or go without.

The solution: hide some vegetables in your food, but don't forget to set a few whole on the table as well.

By the way, orzo, should you not know what it is (I'd never cooked with it before either), is a small pasta that looks like rice, or as Mark pointed out, small seeds. You will be shocked how much zucchini can be stuffed into a serving of it without it being noticeable. I went conservative the first time (the peeled zucchini picture) because I really didn't know how my audience would react, and we still each got 1/2 C. The next day I made more for my lunch (the un-peeled zucchini picture) and I put a whole medium sized zucchini in one large serving and wished I'd added more.

And if you're still not convinced how awesome this can be, it only takes 20 minutes from start to finish (and that includes zucchini grating time). Marry me, 20-minute meals.

Zucchini Orzo
adapted from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
Makes 2 main course or 4 side dish servings
Prep and cook time: 20 minutes

1/2 lb orzo pasta
1 large zucchini or about 4 C grated zucchini
1/4 grated onion or a couple dashes onion powder
2 cloves garlic minced (or a couple dashes garlic powder)
2-4 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 C Parmesan cheese or sharp cheddar (supposing you happen to run out of Parmesan on the day you're to make this, not that I ever would)
salt and pepper to taste
a few pinches chicken bouillon granules
other chopped vegetables (optional--peppers, olives, tomato, spinach, peas--all these would have been great additions)

Cook orzo according to instructions on box.

While it's cooking, heat oil in a skillet and grate your zucchini and onion if using (and any other hard vegetables such as peppers that you may be using). Add salt, pepper, and onion/garlic powders to oil and let them sit for 20 seconds. Add vegetables to oil in skillet (should sizzle, but not go nuts). Mix it around to get it all kind of oily. Turn heat to medium or just below that and allow the zucchini to cook fully (uncovered), stirring occasionally. Add garlic (if you didn't add powder above.

Drain orzo. Add it to skillet and turn heat to low. Mix it up with the zucchini mixture. Add pinches chicken bouillon granules. Add any soft vegetables you may be using such as tomatoes or spinach. Add cheese(s). Give it a stir or two. Taste, adjusting seasoning and serve. Note: I liked this best simply plain, but Kip liked his best with a bit of tomato sauce mixed in. Of course, you can also add meatballs or sausage or whatever if you wish to de-vegetarian it.



  1. Jean, you might be the funniest food blogger I've ever read. I'm so glad to have come across your blog and get almost as excited when one of your posts pops up in my reader as when - wait for it - one of Molly W's.

    Also, your food always sounds like it makes it in my Venn diagram of food (the intersection of fast, edible and cheap)<---(Totally not an afterthought)

  2. Thank you. You're kind of a hoot yourself, you know. Fast, edible, cheap, and I are on very good terms. And I mean that in a purely wholesome way.



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