I don’t know about anyone else, but these in-betweeny seasons make food tricky. It can be hard to decide what mood you are in. Do you want something light and summery to get you in the mood for the warmer weather that’s (hopefully) coming, or something more warm and comforting, that may be more fitting? We got even more snow on Sunday making it officially the snowiest winter on record in Boston. I guess if you’re going to have to put up with it (because the liking it part was a bit hard to sustain), you may as well break a record. But I digress, back to the food. This chard pesto and mozzarella orzo bake tries to bridge that seasonal gap. It’s nicely warm and comforting, but with some colors and flavors of warmer weather. It’s also incredibly tasty, with oozing mozzarella, a tasty creamy sauce and the freshness of basil and lemon.
I call this a chard pesto, but I really use the loosest sense of the word pesto. Yes, it has basil, garlic and parmesan, but there’s no nuts or olive oil. Instead, it’s a creamy creme fraiche-based sauce that I guess is kind of like a simpler version of a cheese sauce without the cooking and a few additions. Or a cross between cheese sauce and pesto. Either way, it’s delicious and easy to make. The chard in there adds a gentle flavor and a bit of extra green healthiness (to balance out the cream and cheese). Then there’s some lemon zest to add a spring-like freshness.
How it’s made
As with a typical orzo bake (and other pasta bakes), the vegetables and pasta are largely cooked before it goes in the oven. The baking then helps the flavors meld, the cheese go gooey and a slight crispness form on top, but none of that takes very long. If you wish, you can skip putting it in the oven and miss out the mozzarella to make it super-quick and a little lighter. However, you would then miss out on the delicious gooey mozzarella working its way through the dish. Personally I think the time in the oven is worth the wait, but feel free to experiment.
While there’s a reasonable amount of cream and cheese, there’s also lots of good vegetables in this orzo bake. This makes it a nice dish for sneaking them in to toddlers, or other fussier eaters, without them particularly noticing as there’s lots of other yummy distractions. Overall, this orzo bake is a really tasty dish, packed with flavor and so easy to eat. It will have everyone coming back for more, and wanting it again soon.
A comforting pasta bake, that's both cheesy and veggie-packed.
- 7 oz chard 200g, 1/2 bunch - about 170g once stalks removed
- 1 onion small, diced
- 1 red pepper diced relatively small
- 1 zucchini courgette, diced relatively small
- 1 carrot diced relatively small
- 8 oz orzo pasta 225g
- 1/2 lemon zest
- 3/4 oz basil 20g, leaves only
- 8 oz creme fraiche 227g (1 tub)
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan 18g, plus a little more to top
- 4 oz mozzarella 115g
Preheat oven to 375F/190C.
Remove the leaves from the chard and blanche them in a pan of boiling water - cook them for around 1-2minutes until soft and leaves darkened then remove and drain.
Heat a little olive oil in a skillet/ frying pan over a medium heat and fry the onion for a minute then add the zucchini. After another couple minutes add the red pepper.
Meanwhile cook the pasta and carrot in a pan of boiling water with a little salt until the pasta is almost but not quite cooked.
While everything is cooking, squeeze out any excess liquid from the chard, roughly chop then put the chard, basil, lemon zest, creme fraiche and parmesan in a food processor/blender and pulse until smooth and blended together.
Once the pasta is cooked, the vegetables should be as well, so drain the pasta and add the other vegetables and the sauce and mix well.
Tear the mozzarella in to small pieces and add, mix through then transfer to an oven dish. Sprinkle some extra parmesan on top and bake for 20-30 minutes until lightly brown (20 will be slightly crisp, 30 a bit darker and more crispy, cook as long as you prefer).
Serve while still hot.
Try these other comforting pasta dishes:
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