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Cheesy Orzo with Mushroom Tomato Sauce & Chicken

Orzo, is it a rice or is it pasta? 

It is a pasta! The word orzo translates in Italian to barley, like the grain. That is why it can be confusing to differentiate whether it is a pasta or grain. It is prepared in the same manner as many pastas, with water, eggs, and flour. I used a whole wheat orzo for this recipe, so in this case it is whole wheat flour. It is categorized as a short-cut pasta, unlike a ribbon-cut pasta like fettuccine. Any pasta can work for this dish, but I wanted to use a pasta that isn't used often or in this manner.  

Orzo is typically used in soups or pilafs, but I decided to use it a bit differently. This is a great way to incorporate other forms of pasta into your diet. Plus it is really delicious and good for you!

By using different varieties of mushrooms the sauce becomes rich and umami, giving it a boost of flavor. Mushrooms are not only nutritious, but from a culinary stand point they add another level of flavor. Making a simple homemade tomato sauce is great, but if you want to add a bit of complexity to your sauce adding mushrooms will help take it to the next level. I used a combination of velvet pioppini, oyster, dried porcini, and portobello mushrooms. Any combination of mushrooms works! 

Yields 4 servings:

Ingredients:

4-6 chicken thighs or combination of thighs and breast 

1 1/2 cups pureed tomatoes - I recommend Pomi 

1 small yellow onion- small dice 

3 garlic cloves- minced 

1 medium portobello mushroom - small dice 

1/4 cup -1/3 cup pioppini mushrooms - diced 

1 tablespoon dried porcini mushrooms 

1/4 cup or 3 oyster mushrooms - diced 

1/4 cup white wine 

6 leaves basil - chiffonade + more for garnish 

Olive oil 

1 teaspoon butter 

1/4 cup mozzarella cheese- cubed 

1/3 cup + more for garnish Parmesan cheese - grated 

Salt + Pepper 

Red pepper flakes (optional) 

Whole Wheat Orzo - I used DeLallo brand

Method:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

Prepare all the vegetables for the sauce. 

Add 2 tablespoons plus half the butter in a saute pan over medium to medium/high. 

Season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper. 

Sear the chicken, about 2-3 minutes on each side. Then remove it from the pan and place it on a plate until later. 

Add about another tablespoon of olive oil and the remaining butter to the pan and lower the heat to medium/low. 

Add the onions and a pinch of salt, sweat the onions for about 1 minute. 

Add the mushrooms, season again with salt and pepper, saute for another minute or so. 

Then add the garlic, bring the pan to a higher heat, deglaze the pan with the white wine. Let this cook for 1 minute. 

Add the tomato sauce. Season this well with salt and pepper. Bring this to a light simmer. Let this cook for about 10 minutes. 

Then add the basil, 1/2 the parmesan cheese, and place the chicken on top. 

Turn the heat off the stove, place the pan in the oven for about 15-18 minutes. 

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season heavily with salt. 

Add the orzo to the boiling water. Cook for about 8-9 minutes. 

Once the chicken is cooked through all the way, remove the dish from the oven. 

Place the chicken on a clean plate. 

Turn the heat to 400 degrees on the oven.

Mix together the orzo into the sauce. Use the pan that the sauce is already in, but be careful remember it is hot from the oven. Add in the mozzarella cheese, and gently mix. 

Place the chicken back on top, sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese and put it back in the oven until the cheese melts, about 3-5 minutes. 

Garnish with fresh basil and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. 

Serve and enjoy! 

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