Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Chicken-Escarole Orzotto

It might not be pretty, but it is soooooo goooooood. Orzotto is risotto made with barley instead of rice. (Thanks to An Italian in the US for alerting me to the correct term!)

As you may have read before, my city is very Italian-American, and we love escarole—in greens dishes and in soup. It’s a hearty lettuce that retains some texture even after prolonged cooking (unlike spinach, which can get a little slimy). And that made it perfect for this dish.

Chicken-Escarole Orzotto
serves 2 or 3

1 can fat-free vegetarian vegetable broth
1/3 cup your favorite spaghetti sauce
Hot water
Olive oil
3 cups chopped escarole, washed and drained
1/2 cup pearled barley
3 large cloves garlic, minced
Pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Dash cayenne pepper (optional)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1-1/2 cups cooked chicken meat

The first thing to do is combine the vegetable broth, spaghetti sauce and about 1 cup of water in a saucepan on a very low flame. You want your liquid to be warm—kept just under the simmering point—to make your cooking process go that much more smoothly. In addition to this pot of broth, I like to keep a teapot full of hot water on in case I need extra liquid. And I usually do.

Heat a medium saucepan over medium flame, then add olive oil to coat the bottom. When the oil comes to a shimmer, add escarole and fry until well wilted.

Push the escarole to the edges of the pan to expose the center bottom. Pour in barley and heat 1 minute, then push it to the sides and add garlic. Fry, stirring, until fragrant (30 seconds to 1 minute).

Now comes the fun part.

Add about 1/2 cup broth mixture. Stir constantly until liquid is absorbed. Then add more, and again stir constantly until liquid is absorbed. Continue this process until no more liquid is absorbed. It may take 30-40 minutes, so don’t be discouraged!

Taste and season with salt, pepper and cayenne to taste. Go easy on the salt because the cheeses will add more salty goodness.

Add cheeses and chicken; stir until combined and melted.

Now here is where a tv chef or uber-blogger would suggest adding fresh herbs for some bright green beauty added to the dish. I didn’t have any fresh herbs, so I didn’t use any.

And as ugly as this dish is, it is so creamy, just lightly spicy and full of texture. Just right for a late supper while watching Heroes.

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