I love Ottolenghi. It was one of my favorite food experiences in London, and I had AMAZING food experiences there. The way the chefs manipulate vegetables and make healthy dishes taste so enticing and complex is masterful. Whenever I see an Ottolenghi recipe, I know it’s something my family and I will love, especially when we are trying to eat a little healthier. I also love my dad’s cooking…the man knows what he’s doing. He throws in whatever strikes his whimsy, disregards a recipe more often then not and the end result is always something interesting and delectable. So, this was the perfect combination-an Ottolenghi recipe as cooked by my dad. This dish impressed us with its simple fresh flavors, and its ease in coming together. For those of you who don’t know, orzo is a type of tiny pasta reminiscent of risotto, that absorbs flavors wonderfully. This is a great autumn dish, filled with hearty vegetables like celery, eggplant, carrots and tomatoes. It would work well with modifications, cube and sautee any vegetable you want to add and you can experiment. We had some leftover ground beef and toasted pine nuts, and my dad threw them in. Try adding feta cheese in addition to the mozarella with sundried tomatoes and olives. Pumpkins and zucchini would work wonderfully, and this would habe been great with mushrooms. This was devoured and will definitely be repeated, probably with different ingredients each time.
Baked Orzo with Eggplant and Mozzarella
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s adaptation of a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe
1 large eggplant, cut into 3/4-inch dice
Salt and black pepper
1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 celery stalk, in a 1/4-inch dice
1 medium onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces (225 grams) orzo, a rice-shaped pasta, rinsed
1 teaspoon (6 grams) tomato paste (we upped this to a tablespoon)
1 1/2 cups (355 ml) vegetable stock (if you don’t have, use water, we ended up adding an extra 1/2-1 cup of water)
1 to 3 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped (We used dried)
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest or more to taste, up to the zest of a whole lemon
4 ounces (115 grams) mozzarella, firmer is better here, cut into 1/3-inch dice (we used shredded)
1 1/2 ounces (a generous 1/2 cup or 45 grams) parmesan, grated
3 medium tomatoes, diced
*My dad added 1 fresh jalapeno pepper, minced to the onions and garlic while cooking. This gave it a great spicy flavor, omit if you like your food mild
Sprinkle your eggplant generously with salt and let it drain in a colander for 30 minutes. I used this time to get the rest of my ingredients ready. After 30 minutes, rinse it well and pat it dry on towels.
Preheat your oven to 350°F (175 C). Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the oil and once the oil is shimmering, add the eggplant. Fry for 8 minutes, stirring pieces occasionally. Using a slotted spoon or spatula, transfer them to paper towels to drain. Add celery and carrots to remaining oil and cook for 3 minutes before adding onion and garlic. Cook together for 5 more minutes on medium heat. Stir in the orzo and tomato paste and cook for two minutes more. Off the heat, add the oregano, mozzarella, parmesan, tomatoes, fried eggplant, lemon zest, 1 teaspoon table salt, many grinds of black pepper and the stock and mix well.
Transfer mixture to an 8×11-inch (about 2 quarts) ovenproof baking dish. Cover with foil and bake 20 minutes, then bake 20 minutes without the foil. (You can increase the ration of foil-on to foil-off time if you don’t like a crunchy pasta lid.) Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.