There is something magical that happens when you toast orzo on a hot stove. Who would have thought that browning this cute, rice-shaped pasta in melted butter would be the first step in preparing a simple dinner like this? It’s one of our favorite tricks that adds extra flavor to dishes, and we’ve shared about this tasty technique before—like in our Toasted Orzo With Kale, Basil, And Pecorino Romano on the blog and in our easy, one-pan Toasted Orzo with Brussels Sprouts and Wilted Greens from the Sides chapter in our cookbook. Today we’re using this magnificent method once more and turning your dinner table into a colorful spring spectacle. This dish has been on repeat in our house all week, and we’re so excited to share it with you today: Toasted Orzo with Roasted Garlic and Asparagus.
We should have titled this recipe “Orzo Everything” because it truly has the perfect balance of, well… everything! In this quick one-pan pasta, two heads of garlic are roasted in the oven until smooth and buttery. Mixed in with seasonally crisp asparagus, handfuls of peppery arugula, and speckled with tangy sun-dried tomatoes, this vibrant meal is topped with ribbons of fresh basil, grated pecorino romano cheese, and a pinch of cayenne pepper, giving this cozy bowl of goodness the slightest hint of heat.
This ultra-comforting pasta is one of the easiest recipes to prepare. Once the garlic heads are finished roasting in the oven (making your entire neighborhood smell like the finest Italian restaurant in town), all the ingredients are simply cooked in one skillet. This pasta comes together like a charm, and if you roast the garlic ahead of time, your dinner will be ready in less than half an hour… unless you decide to take a few extra minutes to make our Triple Chocolate Fudge Brownie Cookies… which is totally acceptable, too.
Toasted Orzo with Roasted Garlic and Asparagus
Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side
2 unpeeled whole heads of garlic
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons (28 g) unsalted butter
6 ounces (170 g / about one cup) dry orzo pasta
1 cup vegetable broth (see note)
1 cup water
1/2 bunch asparagus (8 ounces / 227 g), cut into 1-inch pieces
3 ounces (85 g / about 4 cups loosely packed) arugula leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup (40 g) thinly sliced sun-dried tomatoes
2 ounces (57 g / about 1/2 cup) grated pecorino romano cheese
10 medium basil leaves, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
pinch of ground cayenne pepper
First, roast the garlic: preheat the oven to 400°F/204°C. Use a sharp knife to cut off the top 1/4 inch of the head, leaving the tops of the cloves exposed. Place the head cut-side-up in the center of an 8-inch square of aluminum foil, and drizzle the top with about a teaspoon of olive oil, coating the surface evenly. Gather the sides and corners of the foil and squeeze gently to seal and create a foil packet. Repeat with the second garlic head. Place the two foil packets directly on the oven rack in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes. Then carefully unwrap the foil packets and let the roasted garlic rest briefly until it is cool enough to handle. Squeeze the cloves into a small bowl, making sure to remove all of the papery skins, then use a spoon to mash them into a paste. Set aside.
In a large, deep skillet with a lid, heat the butter over medium heat. When melted, add the orzo and stir frequently until the pasta is deeply toasted and golden brown, about 6 to 7 minutes. Add the vegetable broth and water, cover the skillet, and set a timer for 15 minutes, letting the pan simmer without stirring or opening the lid. When 7-8 minutes remain on the timer (for thick asparagus) or when 5 minutes remain on the timer (for pencil-thin asparagus), remove the lid, stir in the asparagus, and quickly replace the lid to minimize heat loss. When 1 minute remains on the timer, briefly remove the lid and scatter the chopped arugula and sun-dried tomatoes over the orzo without stirring, then replace the lid. When the timer rings and the greens are wilted, remove the skillet from heat and stir in the mashed roasted garlic, grated cheese, basil leaves, salt, pepper, and pinch of cayenne. Stir to combine evenly, then taste for salt and adjust as needed. Serve immediately and enjoy!
— For the vegetable broth, we use a homemade broth recipe from our cookbook which contains salt. If your broth doesn’t contain salt, you may need to add more salt to taste.
— Pecorino romano varies widely in salt content, so feel free to adjust the salt in the recipe depending on what brand of cheese you use.
— The roasted garlic can be made in advance, and will stay fresh in a covered container in the fridge for up to 3 days.