SLOW COOKED VEG AND ORZO BAKE

Life’s a little hectic around here and as a natural consequence, the energy to create tasty and well-balanced meals has gone out the window. I still cook every day for Archie it’s just I have little left in the tank when it comes to our dinner - we’ve had more takeaways of late than I care to admit.  This week I am turning over a new leaf, forcing myself back in the kitchen but easing in with easy crowd pleasers like this: slow cooked veg with orzo.

The dish just needs a little prep and then some time to do its thing, slowly in the oven. As the veg cooks down and turns into a rich gooey heap the orzo comes into its own, soaking up all the juices making this a real treat. The cheese adds more levels and quite frankly why wouldn’t you? Play with the amount and types of veg as you please but don’t leave out the aubergine, it helps  bring everything together, making it all rich and gooey.

Ingredients:

1 Medium white onion, diced

1 Aubergine, diced

1 Red pepper, sliced

2 Courgettes, sliced as thick/thin as you like (I used yellow and green for variety)

233g small vine tomatoes kept whole or large tomatoes cut into quarters (I used a mix as that’s what I had)

2 Cloves of garlic, sliced

1 Bay leaf

Pinch of dried or a sprig of fresh oregano

Pinch of salt

Freshly ground black pepper

100mls Olive oil

100g Orzo

1 Cup of water

50g ‘Hard’ mozzarella (the cooking kind)

90g Petit pois

Freshly grated parmesan

1. Pre-heat oven to 160C

2. Chop all the veg and have ready. You won’t need the petit pois until later

3. Heap all the veg into any large oven proof dish (I used my Lodge cast iron pan) then sprinkle over olive oil, oregano, pinch of salt and a crack of freshly ground black pepper. Mix with hands so everything is coated. Fear not! This mountain of veg will quickly start to reduce

4. Put into the oven for one hour. Check on it a couple of times and give it a mix to swap the veg from the top with the stuff sitting at the bottom

5. After an hour this should all be soft and nicely reduced. Take it out the oven and then turn the oven up to 180C

6. Whilst the oven’s getting hot, add the orzo, mozzarella, parmesan and then the cup of water to the veg. Roughly stir to make sure the cheese is nestled nicely between the pasta and veg and the water’s evenly distributed. Cover tightly with foil and put back into the oven for 15 minutes.

7. Take the dish out, stir in the frozen peas, roughly mix, re-cover and put back in the oven for another 5 minutes.

8. Finally, to get a nice crispy coating on top of both slightly crunchy orzo and golden cheese, take the dish out and turn the oven up to 200C. Uncover your pasta and pop back into the oven for roughly 6 minutes or until as brown as you like.