Asparagus Orzo with Parmesan Crisps

As I write, it’s National Vegetarian Week. It’s also the start of the asparagus season, so the two go hand-in-hand in this clever dish copied after eating something similar recently at The Chelsea Arts Club. Orzo is the Greek pasta shaped like a grain of rice that suits being treated like risotto. It’s boiled in salted water, here with bite-size chunks of asparagus added for the last couple of minutes, drained and tossed with butter. It’s served topped with a spoonful of thick, creamy, intensely sweet cherry tomato sauce with a side garnish of lacy, salty Parmesan crisps. It makes an unusual side dish with simply cooked white fish.

Serves 2

Prep: 20 min

Cook: 20 min

300g cherry tomatoes

1 tbsp Belazu or similar syrupy balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp olive oil

150g orzo

200g (at least) asparagus

25g unsalted butter

Parmesan

     Pierce each tomato with the point of a sharp knife and pile into a small frying pan. Add balsamic and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and grill under a medium heat until squidgy and soft, shaking the tin a few times so the skins don’t burn. Liquidize the contents of the pan until thick and smooth. Force through a sieve with the help of a wooden spoon or spatula into a small pan, scraping underneath so nothing is wasted. Meanwhile, boil the orzo in plenty of salted water according to packet instructions. Snap the asparagus to remove the woody ends and cut into bite-size pieces. When the pasta is almost al dente, add the asparagus, boiling for 2-3 minutes until just done. Drain and return to the pan with the butter. Toss and keep warm. Finally, quickly make the crisps. Heat a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat while you grate the Parmesan on a fine grater; you want a heaped handful. Scatter the Parmesan into the hot pan, deftly spreading evenly to make a thin layer. Cook for a couple of minutes until the surface is covered with holes. Turn off the heat and transfer to a suitable work surface to cool and harden. When cold and set, use a metal spatula to ease the pancake out of the pan, transferring to a work surface. Cut into geometric shapes. To serve, tip the orzo onto the middle of two warmed plates, add a generous share of tomato puree – 2-3 tbsp – and edge with Parmesan crisps.