Mushroom & butternut squash orzo

I ate most of my meals out this weekend as I caught up with friends, so I didn’t get much of a chance to cook. It was lovely spending the weekend with some of the best people I know!

Some of them fed me some really great food, too. Aruna, all the way on the right in this photo, made a chocolate pudding out of tofu that was delicious and figure friendly.

But my own food adventures were mainly limited to dreaming of nutella cupcakes, catching up on Heidi Swanson’s adventures and reading about the possibility of Chipotle opening in Paris.

Speaking of fast food, B and I recently ate at Merzi, an Indian joint inspired by Chipotle.

Merzi means choice, and this restaurant dissects South Asian cooking in a smart way to offer just that. By cooking the curries separate from the meat, they are able to offer you your choice of meats and veggies with sauces of varying spice levels. The meal is served on basmati rice, naan or a chaat salad with chick peas.

The food is well executed, despite looking a little messy, and the place seems to be busy. I hope they get to expand, because I really dig the idea of fast food that has a fresh feel. The restaurant is owned by Qaiser and Annie Kazmi, who seem to have a Punjabi inspired flavor in their dishes. There’s no alcohol (tasty mango lassi smoothies instead) and the meat is halal.

Now, to the meal.

I wrapped the weekend up by watching the Super Bowl at home. (The Steelers made quite the comeback as I typed this, but the Packers remain up by 4 in the 3rd quarter. I have no dog in this fight, so I hope your fave team wins!)

Before the game started, I put together a quick orzo pasta with leftover mushrooms and butternut squash.

I had sauteed the mushrooms a few days ago with pepper and a splash of reduced balsamic vinegar. I think they were a marasmius variety, but unfortunately I forgot to write down their name when I bought them at the farmer’s market last week.

The squash I had cut into cubes, sprinkled over brown sugar and melted butter, and roasted at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes. It’s a great snack on its own. (Thanks, Tamanna, for the tip!)

I made the sauce with melted dolcelatte (a mellowed out and creamy take on gorgonzola), tomato paste and garlic. The tomatoes balance the cheese nicely.

1. Start by warming up your spices over medium flame for several minutes:
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. salt

2. Add the sauce components and cook for 5 minutes so it comes together:
1 tbsp. tomato paste
2 oz. dolcelatte or gorgonzola cheese
1/4 c water

3. Stir in:
1/2 c sauteed mushrooms
1/2 c roasted butternut squash
1/4 c slivered almonds (or any chopped nuts)
2 cups cooked orzo

Use reserved pasta water to thin out the sauce as needed, sprinkle with black pepper, and serve.

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