If my trip to the grocery store to buy orzo had a literary equivalent, it would have been Homer’s “Odyssey.”
I had planned my Sunday night around going to Trader Joe’s and buying the ingredients for my second cooking attempt ““ Greek orzo, submitted by Debra Dralle, director of staff human resources for the College of Letters and Science.
All I needed was some basil, goat cheese, asparagus and that elusive orzo ““ a rice-shaped pasta often used in Mediterranean dishes. Alas, Trader Joe’s was fresh out of my Greek treasure grain. It was also out of potted basil.
So, I went to Ralphs (Calypso’s island, if you will), where I was told that this location doesn’t carry orzo (and that it might actually be a bean). I was also recommended to go to a more Mediterranean grocery store. When I asked where that might be, I was pointed to Ralphs on Olympic and Barrington avenues.
Not letting the Sirens of my journey distract me from my cooking path, I went to Whole Foods instead. An employee said that she doesn’t remember ever seeing orzo there, but directed me to the grain aisle anyway.
At this point I started calling around and asking for a substitute grain ““ maybe I had gone crazy and was the only person who had ever attempted to find orzo in Westwood. Maybe it was really a mysterious and exotic dish that I was unprepared to handle. Halfway through my phone call, however, I found the whole wheat orzo sitting conspicuously on the bottom shelf ““ the epic shopping journey was finally over.
When I finally made it back to my Ithaca (I am going to let the analogy die now), I prepared for a multistep process. Although called foolproof by Dralle, the recipe involved boiling, chopping and mixing ““ two more steps than making my signature recipe of whole grain toast.
To my surprise, the cooking went smoothly and quickly. After boiling the orzo with asparagus pieces, all I had to do was pour it over a mixture of cherry tomatoes, basil, goat cheese chunks and some olive oil to let it melt and mix. I didn’t use much basil because I’m not the biggest fan of herbs, but I stirred the mixture well for extra creaminess.
The result was filling but not heavy. The softness of the cheese and the sweetness of the cherry tomatoes complemented the rice-like texture of the grain and the chewiness of the asparagus. It only took about 20 minutes in total, and the batch was quite sizable. My Greek grandfather would have been proud, I decided.
I packed some of the orzo into a little foil container, wrapped it up and took it to Dralle the next morning to taste. Immediately after she unwrapped it, I learned that I was not supposed to mix the entire batch together to make the goat cheese sauce-like, but rather let it just sit for more texture. While it probably wouldn’t change the taste much, the experience would have been different. I also didn’t use enough basil, which would have added more of a zesty aftertaste. Overall, though, Dralle didn’t look scared to try it and gave me helpful feedback ““ my culinary progress was underway for sure.
Dralle learned to cook full dinners while in college, like I’m attempting to do. Growing up in Galesburg, Ill., she recalled the first time she had pizza ““ a food deemed exotic in a town based on dairy agriculture. She began experimenting with different recipes in college and eventually started making the simple Greek orzo dish she sent my way.
So, who knows ÂÂ”“ maybe in a few months, I’ll be combining and toying with Mediterranean ingredients, too. I want to thank Dralle, though ““ for the recipe, feedback and encouragement ““ and for telling me to learn to like basil because, in all honesty, it would have made the dish even better.
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