Dinner for One: Pumpkin Orzo with Sage

Our current domestic arrangement leaves me in New York on my own a few nights a week. This has its downsides, clearly. Things are better when he’s around. I have trouble sending myself to bed on time, and there feels like less differentiating my day alone at a desk from my evening in the apartment. On the upside, though, I can watch all the bad television I can handle and eat whatever appeals to me without worrying about another person’s preferences. Often, these meals involve eggs (which Matt dislikes) and/or bacon (which he could take or leave.) Carbonara is a favorite. Roasted cauliflower with a fried egg on top got me through last winter. But this one he would have liked.

Like many of you, I’ve been watching Spain: On the Road Again on PBS, so Mario Batali was on my mind. This recipe was inspired by his Pumpkin Orzo recipe in the Babbo cookbook. Instead of following his instructions, which include making homemade pumpkin or squash purée, cooking orzo in boiling water, cooling it in an ice bath and then letting it dry on a baking sheet (geez!) I decided to simplify. Remembering Clotilde’s method for absorbtion pasta, I simply prepared this as if it was risotto. It yielded a velvety pasta that was quite integrated into a thick pumpkiny sauce, almost a pasta pudding, with vibrant savory notes thanks to the balsamic and the sage.

The sage plant on our balcony has spread to fill a huge planter that the previous tenant left behind. Try as I might, it’s hard to use that much sage. Sage is strong, even to the point of bitterness, and there are only so many olive-oil fried sage leaves one can eat. (Though those are awesome, like sagey potato chips!) I do think sage is essential in this dish, though Mario did not include it in the Babbo recipe—sage really stands up to the pumpkin flavor, preventing this from becoming another pumpkin dish that could easily fill a pie. After tasting the combination, I found myself out on the balcony tearing out more leaves to rip up and sprinkle onto my plate. Don’t skip the sage!

Pumpkin Orzo with Sage
Adapted from Mario Batali
Serves 2

Splash olive oil
1 T butter
2 shallots
1 cup orzo
3 cups chicken stock (or vegetable if you’re avoiding meat)
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
2 T honey
2 T balsamic vinegar
4 sage leaves, ripped, plus 10 or so for garnish (don’t skip!)
pinch brown sugar
1-2 cups hot water, if necessary
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat chicken stock and wine together until lightly simmering. Saute onions in butter and olive oil in a medium sized pot until soft (I used a six-quart enameled dutch oven, which worked quite well.) Add orzo and 4 sage leaves and stir, cooking 1 minute. Add stock/wine mixture by the ladleful, stirring constantly and pausing to let the stock absorb as you would for risotto. After you’ve added about half the stock, stir in the pumpkin, honey, balsamic, and sugar. Keep adding stock until it’s gone, letting the pasta absorb. After 8-10 minutes, check the progress of the pasta. Add hot water if necessary, ladleful at a time, until pasta is cooked. Sauce will be quite thick. Sprinkle generously with salt and freshly ground pepper. Garnish each serving with ripped sage leaves.

In budget, fall, pasta, vegetarian

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