Oh man, I am a sucker for a creamy pasta dish and this one hit all the right spots. This recipe was literally like crack for me; striking in exactly all of my weak spots for creamy, savory, cheesy, mushroomy, and carb-ladened. I could not stop taking bites (even after I was already full). This dish is definitely on the decadent side, but I tried to lighten it up with low-fat cream cheese (yeah..."tried" is the operative word in that sentence). However, sometimes indulgence is necessary and you just gotta go for it. Needless to say, my whole family thought this dish was fantastic; even my ever-so-persnickity 4 1/2 year old boy. Let me tell you, when a child--whom we normally have to beg--eats dinner gleefully, and without a peep of complaint...now that is a recipe's true seal of approval!
Creamy Orzo with Chicken, Mushrooms, & Red Peppers
Adapted From: Food and Wine Quick From Scratch Pasta Cookbook via My Kitchen Cafe blog
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 average-sized chicken breasts (about 1 to 1 ½ pounds), cut into chunks
2 red bell peppers, cut into ½-inch pieces
8 ounces white button mushrooms, quartered
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 pound orzo pasta
8 ounces low-fat cream cheese, softened
1 cup reserved pasta water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley or fresh basil
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the orzo and cook according to package directions until tender. When the orzo is ready, reserve 1 cup of the pasta water (ladling it into a small bowl is my method) and then drain the orzo and set aside.
While the orzo cooks, in a large nonstick skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Add the chicken to the hot oil and brown on all sides. When nicely browned (but not all the way cooked through), add the peppers, mushrooms and thyme. Stir and let cook for about 5 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the mushrooms and peppers have softened and browned and most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
In the skillet over medium heat, add the softened cream cheese (if you forgot to let the cream cheese soften at room temperature, no worries! Pop it in the microwave for one minute on 40% power) in bite sized chunks and stir so that the cream cheese melts and coats the chicken and vegetables. Add the reserved pasta water and bring to a simmer. Add ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Stir. Add the orzo, Parmesan, lemon juice and fresh parsley. Stir to combine and heat through. Garnish with additional Parmesan and parsley (or basil).
*Note: this pasta is best served immediately as it tends to get less creamy as it sits at room temperature – so serve warm right as it finishes cooking!
(Incidentally, it heated up just fine the next day in the microwave on low power.)
Sooooooo worth the splurge!