When life gives you lemons, make orzo with goat cheese and spring veggies.

What do you mean, that’s not how the saying goes? Fuck you.

You know how sometimes you come home after a long, tiring day sitting in front of a computer and stapling various pieces of paper to other pieces of paper, and you want a satisfying meal that won’t take very long? Usually when that happens I order in some lamb shawarma, because who wants to cook when they’re fucking tired? I had to collate things today, and I walked to the water cooler twice. But sometimes, I decide to throw some crap in a pot and see if I can make a go of it myself, and the result ends up being a tasty, easy, quick meal that instantly becomes part of the weekday repertoire.

Of course, sometimes it ends up being an inedible pot of shit and I have to order shawarma anyway. But this is not one of those times, I promise.

I know what you’re thinking: one close-up of ham is NOT ENOUGH. I AIM TO PLEASE.

Orzo is one of those things I don’t eat that often, because I tend to think about it only in the context of my mother’s chicken soup, and not as an independent pasta that can be easily freed from its soupy master. But I wanted something pasta-salady and the only other pasta in the house was linguine, so I went with the orzo. (In a more pique fit of Type A-ness I might have trimmed the linguine down strand by strand to a pasta-salad-appropriate size. Yes, I have problems, and yes, I take my medication every day.)

With the orzo boiling, I stood slack-jawed in front of the open fridge for a few minutes, looking for dinner-worthy pasta salad additions that could be pulled together in the same time the orzo would take to cook. My mix: frozen peas, fresh baby spinach, herbed goat cheese, smoked ham (left over from the great chicken fry of aught-eight) and lemon.

The frozen peas went into the orzo pot for the last few minutes of cooking. Once the peas and orzo were drained, I returned them to the pot and tossed them with the remaining ingredients. The residual heat wilted the spinach and heated the ham perfectly, the goat cheese combined with the pasta water clinging to the orzo to make a silky, creamy sauce, and the zest sent up a fresh aroma and brightened the whole dish. The sweet peas, salty ham, tangy cheese and bright lemon were flavorful and nicely balanced. I fully admit that the baby spinach was included simply to up the veggie quotient.

I think this combo makes a fantastic dish as is, although if you get your grubby mitts on some fresh English peas – now’s the time! – they’d be delicious instead of their frozen brethren. But using the orzo as your base and the goat cheese as your saucing agent, you could make this with any combo of fresh, frozen or leftover veggies you have (asparagus and morels for an ode to spring, anyone?). I like the salt of the ham as a counterpoint to the peas, but you could easily substitute some proscuitto or leftover chicken, or leave the animal bits out entirely. Bonus: it makes great leftovers.

COMING NEXT: I enter the world of the Daring Bakers!

Orzo with Goat Cheese and Spring Veggies
1 c. orzo
1 tsp. salt
1/2 frozen peas
4 oz. baby spinach
2 oz. fresh herb goat cheese (the kind you can get at regular supermarkets, nothing fancy)
4 oz. diced smoked ham (I had Niman Ranch)
Zest of 1 lemon

Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the salt and orzo. Cook until the orzo is al dente, about 10 minutes. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, add the frozen peas to the pot.

Drain the pasta and peas, reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta water, and return to the pot. Mix in the baby spinach and cover the pot for 2-3 minutes to give it a chance to wilt a bit. Mix in the ham, goat cheese and zest, adding pasta water as needed to encourage the goat cheese to melt down and coat the other ingredients (this only took a few tablespoons for me). Adjust salt and pepper and add extra lemon if you’d like. Serve now, or serve later.

Makes 2 hearty dinner portions + leftovers for lunch the next day.

19 thoughts on “When life gives you lemons, make orzo with goat cheese and spring veggies.

  1. A paper cutter is totally bitchin’ in a pinch for last-minute pasta mutilation.

    I just planted peas yesterday, and I’m looking forward to phoning in a half-assed version of this when they’re all grownsed up.

  2. jodi: if you could figure out a way to deep fry it, then it’d really be good.

    kevin: thanks! it was.

    peter: the thing is, this is a pretty half-assed dish itself. i think it took about 9 minutes from start to finish. so you may as well just do it up right.

    peabody: it does. and the way it combined with the pasta water to make a sauce was a pleasant surprise.

    pam: let me know how you like it! if you used non-herby goat cheese, you could get some mint in there. mmm, fresh peas and mint.

    heather: i like it raw, with some lemon juice and salt. but cooked, it’s filler, plain and simple.

    emiline: dontcha? sometimes i feel like i don’t take enough pictures of pork. oh wait, that’s someone else.

    cowgirl: really, goat cheese with anything. or ham with anything.

  3. rachel: i will! i promise!

    catherine: thanks for opening me up to all the people who are googling “ham pr0n.”

    ham pr0n people, seek professional help.

    sher: thanks!

  4. “What do you mean, that’s not how the saying goes? Fuck you.”

    and that’s why I love you michelle. no, really. ;)

    this looks great by the way. very much a wing it dish but one that turned out so beautifully. nice.

  5. claudia: and i would smack your damn hand away, because this is some niman ranch smoked ham.

    melissa: that’s my plan for blogular fame: i’ll curse people out, and they’ll love me more and more. :)

    allen: what else is there? oh yeah, the fourth: chocolate.

    zenchef: never let it be forgotten, i’m from new jersey: KING OF STATES.

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