• The San Juan Daily Star

This creamy fall orzo will please anyone who loves a cozy porridge

This hearty, meatless meal from Melissa Clark is full of tender pasta, butternut squash and lots of warming brown butter — just the thing for a blustery evening.

By Melissa Clark

Maybe it’s a symptom of having read too many 19th-century British novels, but to me, a steaming bowl of porridge, speckled with nuggets of melting butter and crunchy flakes of salt, is possibly the most comforting meal I could curl up with on a blustery, gray evening. It should be sustaining enough for any heroine before she treads across the heath: thick and very savory, bearing little resemblance to anything sugared, cinnamon-topped and breakfast-appropriate.

The only problem with this vision is getting the other members of my household to partake. Dinner porridge isn’t for everyone.

Which is why I’m apt to disguise it.

Instead of salted oat porridge, I’ll offer risotto, polenta, congee or, as I have here, a one-pot dish of orzo simmered with butternut squash.

When orzo is prepared in this manner, with just enough broth to cook it through without making it soupy, it becomes porridgelike in the best way. It’s soft and moundable, with a creamy texture that’s a little like risotto. And in this vegetable-laden version, it’s studded with velvety butternut squash.

I used to make this recipe by roasting the squash separately, then folding the browned chunks into the orzo right at the end.

I’ve streamlined the process. Now I cook the squash in the same pot as the orzo, giving the butternut cubes a head start so everything is done at the same time. The only downside is losing the caramelization that happens in the oven’s high heat. To compensate, I sauté the squash in brown butter to add that extra layer of nutty, caramelized goodness.

As for the seasonings (beyond the brown butter), they’re flexible. Just choose an allium (shallot, leek or onion); a strong, hearty herb (sage, rosemary or marjoram); and some kind of well-flavored vegetable broth (or chicken broth). I like to also add some lemon zest and red pepper flakes for brightness and heat. Then, right at the end, a few tablespoons of Parmesan give the right amount of umami richness.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to drizzle cream over your oatmeal, you might want to spoon a few dollops of milky ricotta on top of this orzo. Either way, it will be a cozy dish that’s a perfect accompaniment to that Gothic novel you just can’t seem to put down.

Brown-butter orzo with butternut squash

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 45 minutes


4 tablespoons unsalted butter

3/4 cup thinly sliced shallots (2 to 3), or use onion or leek

1 small (2-pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 3/4-inch cubes (3 cups)

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage leaves, or 2 teaspoons chopped rosemary or marjoram, plus more for serving, if you like

1 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt, plus more as needed

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for serving

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus more for serving

3 cups vegetable stock or chicken stock

1 1/2 cup uncooked orzo

1 lemon, zested and halved

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan, plus more for serving

1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta (optional)


1. In a medium Dutch oven or a large (12-inch) skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Cook, swirling occasionally, until the foam subsides, the milk solids turn golden brown, and it smells nutty and toasty, 3 to 4 minutes. (Watch carefully to see that it doesn’t burn.)

2. Stir in shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, about 2 minutes. Add squash, sage, a large pinch of salt, the 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and the 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes and cook until squash is golden at the edges and begins to soften, 12 to 17 minutes.

3. Add stock and bring to a simmer. Stir in orzo, lemon zest and the 1 teaspoon salt. Cover the pan and simmer over medium-low heat until orzo is just tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, 14 to 18 minutes, stirring once or twice. If the pan dries out before the orzo and squash are tender, add a splash or two of water.

4. Remove pan from heat and stir in Parmesan. Taste and add more salt if needed and a squeeze of lemon juice if the dish needs brightness. Dollop with ricotta if using and sprinkle with more grated Parmesan and black pepper just before serving, garnishing the top with more red pepper flakes and sage.

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