This creamy chard pesto baked orzo has all the comfort factor you would want in colder weather with that bit of freshness, too. It has plenty of gooey cheese, but lots of healthy veg as well. Perfect for any occasion.
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I don't know about anyone else, but I find these in-betweeny seasons tricky for food. 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 creamy chard pesto, but I really use the loosest sense of the word pesto. It's not like my more traditional arugula pesto as it has a creamier consistency and some lemon in there too. These additions make it a little smoother, and seem slightly decadent, but also fresh-tasting, too.
Either way, it's delicious and easy to make. The flavors work really well together and make a nice change to a more traditional pesto.
How to make this comforting baked orzo
As with a typical orzo bake (like my cheesy orzo pasta 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.
Top tip: change the vegetables to taste
While I suggest adding some onion, pepper and zucchini in with the pasta, sauce and cheese, you could certainly use other vegetables based on what you have and prefer.
I recommend onion for a little added flavor and slight sweetness, but other options could include peas, diced carrot or small pieces of broccoli.
Whatever you use, I recommend pre-cooking to al-dente as they won't cook that much in with the pasta.
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.
Try these other comforting pasta recipes:
- Bacon sun-dried tomato pasta with spinach and cream
- Creamy lemon chicken pasta bake
- Spicy sausage pasta skillet
- Gnocchi alla Romana (semolina gnocchi so not quite pasta but close, and oh so comforting, too)
- Plus get more main dishes recipes in the archives.
I use my 8in baking dish (the larger from the set linked) for this which works well (affiliate link).
Creamy chard pesto baked orzo
For creamy chard pesto
- 3 oz chard 85g, weight without stems - about ½ bunch
- ¾ oz basil 20g, leaves only
- 1 oz almonds 30g
- ½ lemon zest
- ¼ cup creme fraiche 60g
- 1 oz grated parmesan 30g, plus a little more to top
- ¼ cup virgin olive oil 60ml (or extra virgin)
For rest of dish
- 1 onion small, diced
- 1 red pepper diced relatively small
- 1 zucchini courgette, diced relatively small
- 8 oz orzo pasta 225g
- 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 1-2 minutes until soft and leaves darken slightly. Remove the leaves, allow to cool and drain well by squeezing out excess liquid.
- While chard is cooling, 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 in a pan of boiling water with a little salt until the pasta is just cooked.
- While everything is cooking, squeeze out any excess liquid from the chard, roughly chop then put the chard and basil in a food processor and pulse to break up well. Then add the almonds and lemon zest, pulse again to chop and mix, then add the creme fraiche and parmesan. Finally add the olive oil in a steady stream with the food processor running and pulse until smooth and well blended together.
- Once the pasta is cooked, the vegetables should be as well, so drain the pasta and add the vegetables and the sauce and mix well.
- Tear/cut the mozzarella in to small pieces (see note) and add, mix through then transfer to an oven dish. You can also mix everything directly in the 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.
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This post was first shared in March 2015 and has been updated, primarily with new photos and added video.