Note: I wrote this recipe “Cacio e Pepe Cabbage Orzo Risotto” as part of a bigger feature in Edible Boston’s Winter 2021 issue. The feature focused on vegetarian recipes that are straightforward, easy, and feature local winter produce. You can see the feature here on Edible Boston, as well as an edited version of the article published in their print magazine below- in particular, I feel like understanding the “why” behind this recipe was key AND how I hope it’s used/read.Jump to Recipe
Edible Boston Feature: The Hidden Bounty of Winter Vegetables
It’s just not as easy to love local produce in the winter. The glamour of tomatoes and peaches is hard to compete with. But if you explore and get creative, winter produce can be just as colorful, rich, and delicious. I wanted each recipe to be like a blind date: a time to get to know a single vegetable- and maybe in a way you hadn’t considered before. (P.S. This recipe: all about the hearty greens. In particular, I wanted to utilize their stunning green color to infuse both color and flavor into rice.)
In my early days of cooking, I felt obligated to strictly follow recipes, even if that meant buying spices that just collected dust in my pantry. Over time, I began to think of recipes more like a template with suggestions. If a recipe calls for a bunch of different herbs, it’s okay if I only have a couple of them. While this philosophy was somewhat born out of practical constraints, it also made cooking less stressful- to the point of being fun. I had room to play and be creative.
So I encourage you to see these recipes as a starting point. Try swapping out a spice or two based on your personal taste. You may create something even better (and other times not- but it’s just a single meal and still worth trying). As a teacher, I know that some dive into this flexibility and experimentation, while others find it daunting. If you find yourself on the “I follow a recipe to a T” end of the spectrum, be sure to read the description for each recipe. I give specific suggestions and ideas on where there’s wiggle room to experiment. The more you make it your own, the more likely you are to make it again.
“Will you make it again?” is always my first question when assessing a recipe and my ultimate goal. It sounds obvious, but this question considers both the final product and the experience of making it. Have you ever finished a recipe, only to stare and wonder if a tornado just went through your kitchen? For me, the final straw was a stuffed pumpkin. After an inordinate amount of steps, the pumpkin was finally in the oven. And then I stepped back and saw the number of bowls and utensils to clean. Even if it was delicious, I knew I probably wouldn’t make it again, or at least not anytime soon.
Luckily, a recipe can have minimal ingredients, equipment or steps while still being creative and bold in flavor. While we often have our go-to flavors, I’ve found the key to consistently cooking most nights and not getting in a rut is mixing it up. So enjoy this collection of cozy vegetarian recipes that features a wide variety of flavors, textures, and aromas while also fitting into your busy schedule.
Recipes in this Feature:
- Cabbage Fritters, Two Ways
- One-Pot Cilantro Lime Rice with Poached Eggs
- Fried Cheese & Roasted Beet Salad
- Cacio e Pepe Cabbage Orzo Risotto
- Roasted Squash with Toasted Sesame Seeds & Yellow Raisins
And now to this recipe… Cacio e Pepe Cabbage Orzo Risotto
Cozy up to this comforting, rich bowl that’s a play on both risotto (through its method) and Cacio e Pepe (through its flavors). Although technically pasta, orzo is a fun twist and just melds into the butter and cheese. If you’re looking for something extra special, add some buttery mushrooms on top.
Cacio e Pepe Cabbage Orzo Risotto
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1-2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 small onion, , sliced thinly
- ½ medium cabbage, (12-13 oz) sliced thinly (ideally use a mandolin)
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 cup orzo, (whole grain or regular both work)
- ½ cup (1.5 ounces) finely shredded fresh Parmesan, (plus a little extra for topping as you serve)
- 1 teaspoon diamond kosher salt (if using any other salt, use half the amount), (or to taste)
- ½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- ~2 cups water
- Heat a 3-4 quart cast iron pan over low heat. Add oil and butter. Add in onion and saute, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to brown.
- Add cabbage (the cabbage will look like a lot and stack, don’t worry) and cover the pot for one minute to help the cabbage wilt and reduce in size. Remove the cover and saute, stirring occasionally, until brown and caramelized, about 10-15 minutes. Season with salt at this point. If you notice the cabbage is sticking, add in a bit more oil.
- Add in garlic and orzo. Stir to coat the orzo in the residual oil/moisture on the cabbage.
- Begin to incrementally add in a total of about 2 to 2 1/2 cups of water over the next 10-15 minutes (the exact amount of water depends on both the moisture content of the cabbage and the type of orzo). Start with ½ cup increments and then slowly reduce the amount of water being added- about a few tablespoons at a time toward the end. After adding in the increment of water, stir occasionally and let cook until most of the water has been absorbed. Repeat until a total of 2 cups of water has been added. *The whole process takes about 15 minutes. Taste orzo to to check that it is fully cooked. If it is not fully cooked it will be slightly crunchy. Continue to add more water in small increments until fully cooked.
- Once orzo is cooked, stir in parmesan and pepper. Season with more salt as needed. Serve immediately.