As we pulled out of our street this morning and drove past Peckham Rye Park, I realised that it was winter. It wasn’t the people walking by in scarves or the fact that we could see our breath that gave it away, but the carpet of frost stretching from one side of the field to the other. Just as we started to settle into autumn, the seasons are on the change again. As is often the way in the colder months, I go into hibernation mode – putting off leaving the house until the last minute in the morning and eagerly anticipating walking back through the door in the evening – and find myself craving serious amounts of carbohydrates.
I also become unspeakably lazy by the middle of the week. I start off well, but the laborious commutes by underground, long days in the office, dark mornings and even darker evenings, sap away my energy. By the time Wednesday evening comes around, I am good for little more than reading, eating and watching television – all from the comfort of the couch. On the rare occasion I am tempted out, I go swathed in knitwear, insulated by gin and in pursuit of food. When at home, I want meals that take no longer than 20 minutes.
Orzo has quickly become one of my favourite ingredients and I have recently taken to keeping a bag in the cupboard for those moments when you need a speedy meal. It crosses the boundary between rice and pasta, so can be used as a substitute for either. You can boil it and stir into other ingredients to make a speedy pseudo-risotto or ‘orzotto’, can cook it in stock as a handy side dish, or can simply stir through some pesto for a, literally, five minute meal. As with risottos and pastas, you can combine it with any number of ingredients that you have languishing in the bottom of the fridge and create a satisfying meal. At the very most, you might have to pop to the corner shop. This dish used up a few bacon rashers I had leftover from the lost weekend, a couple of courgettes that were about to venture beyond their best, an old chunk of parmesan, a little leftover wine (see: lost weekend) and the end of the rocket and pine nuts I bought for the leftover roast chicken salad. You could add in and substitute just about anything – just use this recipe as a guide for quantities and go crazy in the kitchen.
A note on bacon: There is no denying that bacon adds a beautiful salty, meatiness to a dish that cannot be replicated by any other ingredient. When I was a vegetarian, heaven knows I tried. The best bacon to use for this recipe is one that has a little fat, such as streaky bacon – pancetta also works well. If you cannot find this, lardons or back bacon will also work fine, but you may need to add a little extra oil when cooking as they do not yield as much fat. I used smoked bacon because I prefer the taste, but feel free to use unsmoked if the mood takes you. The equivalent pancetta or lardons to 4 rashers of bacon is approximately 150g.
Orzo with Courgettes, Pine Nuts and Bacon
- 300g orzo
- 4 rashers bacon (see notes above)
- 1 large onion
- Olive oil
- 250ml white wine
- 2 large courgettes
- Handful rocket
- Salt and black pepper
- 50g parmesan, grated
- 2 tbsp pine nuts
Cook the orzo in salted boiling water according to packet instructions. Drain well and set aside.
In a large saucepan, gently fry the onion in the olive oil until slightly translucent. Cut the bacon into small pieces, approx 1″ squared and add to the pan. Fry until cooked, adding a little more oil if necessary (see notes on bacon above). Add the wine to the pan and allow it to bubble away until reduced by half. Add the courgettes and cook for around 10 minutes, until they are tender.
Remove from the heat and stir in the orzo. Once combined, fold through the rocket, grated parmesan, salt and pepper and pine nuts until fully combined and the rocket has wilted.