When I recently visited my lovely friend Charlotte (recently a new mum to the beautiful Henry, and one of my Alphabet Adventures buddies), her mum Jill made us a gorgeous dinner of creamy orzo pasta with chicken, followed by a lemon fudge cheesecake.
Jo, the third in our AA trio, was also there and we had a lovely evening meeting Henry, chatting about life in general, and getting to know Jill. It turns out that Jill is in the process of setting up a B&B near Wales, and what she described about her new project made us all desperate for her to set it up so we can go there on holiday. If the food there is anything like what she cooked for us, then the guests will be in for a big treat.
As I ate the creamy orzo, I knew I would be making it again, and when my mum recently visited me to give me my birthday presents (woo hoo!) I made it for her and Andrew. To celebrate my birthday I also made some mini victoria sponges for us to have for pudding. Well, I say I made them: I made the sponges, and I left mum to assemble and decorate them – as you will see from the photographs, she did a pretty good job.
The dish is described as a creamy orzo because it’s quite similar to a risotto: the starch from the pasta is what makes the sauce creamy. This means that it’s actually a very light and fresh dish, with lots of flavour. You could easily make it vegetarian by omitting the chicken, and you could add other vegetables if you prefer. I would have wilted some spinach on top of the orzo at the end, and topped it with toasted pine nuts and shaved parmesan, but my mum dislikes spinach so I didn’t bother.
In Jill’s recipe asparagus is cooked with the pasta but as Andrew hates the stuff I boiled it in salted water separately and added it to the pasta at the end. You could sautee mushrooms separately and add them at the end to add a different taste / texture to the dish. I also didn’t bother using any wine in the dish (as I didn’t have an open bottle); otherwise I followed the recipe quite faithfully, and although I was worried that it would become a gloopy mess, the dish was the complete opposite. I served it with crusty bread and salad and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. And because it was relatively light, there was plenty of room in our tummies for our baby victoria sponges.
Mummy Green’s creamy orzo with chicken, asparagus and sundried tomatoes – serves 3
3 small chicken breasts, 1 chicken oxo, 1tbsp olive oil, 1 large tsp lazy garlic, 1 chopped onion, 1 bunch asparagus, 50g grated parmesan, packet sundried tomatoes, chopped fresh basil, salt and pepper
Firstly poach the chicken breasts for 5 minutes in 500ml stock you have made with the oxo cube (although of course if you have real chicken stock that’s even better). Jill browned the chicken before she poached it, but I couldn’t be bothered! Remove the chicken and set it aside but retain the stock as you’ll need it later. In a clean pan sautee the onion and garlic in olive oil until it is soft and translucent. Add the orzo pasta and coat it in the oil like you do with rice when you are making a risotto. Add the 500ml stock to the pasta and cook over a medium heat for approximately 10 minutes, stirring frequently until most of the liquid is absorbed and the orzo is nearly tender. At this point you can add the slices of asparagus tips, if you haven’t cooked them separately. Cook for another 5-10 minutes until the orzo is creamy and the liquid has been absorbed – if you need to then you can add a little extra stock or hot water to make sure the orzo doesn’t become dry.
Turn off the heat and stir in the sliced cooked chicken, parmesan, sundried tomatoes and basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste and add more parmesan on top if you like.
Mini victoria sponges – makes 6, or you could use the same mixture to make 12 fairy cakes
125g self raising flour, 125g butter, 125g caster sugar, 2 eggs, 1tsp vanilla extract, splash of milk, 1 punnet raspberries, raspberry curd or jam of choice, 200ml double cream which has been whipped
Beat all of the ingredients except the milk together in a food mixer. Add literally one or two splashes of milk to create a spoonable consistency. Either spoon the mixture into fairy cake cases (in which case you make 12) or I used a silicon muffin tin which had six holes – I shared the mixture equally between all six holes and then baked the cakes at 180 degrees for 20 minutes. Fairy cakes would need only 10-12 minutes baking. You can tell the cakes are baked by pressing the top of them – they should feel spongy and spring up to your touch.
Once cold, slice the cakes in half and fill with raspberry curd, fruit and whipped cream. Dust the top of the cake with icing sugar before serving.