Meat Free Mondays – Creamy Orzo Risotto with Butternut Squash

As we continue with Meat Free Mondays — our commitment to cook at least one meal per week without meat — it is sometimes a challenge to find a vegetarian dish that satisfies our protein cravings at dinnertime.

Pasta can be one solution. It is starchy and filling, while at the same time complements whatever other ingredients you combine with it.

Creamy Orzo Risotto with Butternut Squash and Jalapeno Cornbread

Creamy Orzo Risotto with Butternut Squash and Jalapeno Cornbread

Orzo, which frequently is used in Greek cuisine, is an unusual pasta that is shaped like a long rice grain. While it is manufactured from hard wheat semolina like other pastas, cooked orzo takes on the creamy texture of barley or risotto, both of which are grains.

This time of year, there is an abundance of inexpensive squash in the marketplace, including acorn, carnaval, and spaghetti. Butternut squash has a subtle yet distinct flavor that shines as the centerpeice of this simple yet elegent vegetarian entree. Its slightly nutty and sweet taste perfectly complements the sharpness of the parmesan, and the fresh thyme adds a nice herby tone.

I chose to pair it with jalapeno cornbread because I love the way it crumbles into the pasta as you eat it. And the pepper adds just the slightest kick to this otherwise laid back meal.

The squash can be cooked off ahead of time. Because I prefer to cook off the whole squash at once, I had plenty of roasted diced squash left over to save for sprinkling onto salads or garnishing soups.

Cleaning a butternut squash is easy. Simply cut off the top and bottom, then cut it in half horizontally, leaving a larger globular half and a smaller enlongated half. Use a chef’s knife to cut away the tough outer skin of both halves. Then cut the large, round peice in half again vertically and use an ice cream scoop to remove the seeds and strings.

I adapted this recipe from Weight Watchers, so it is low-fat and healthy as well as delicious! We’ve made it many times, and although it’s not complicated, it is very, very flavorful and quite satisfying.

Creamy Orzo Risotto with Butternut Squash

2 cups butternut squash, cut into small cubes


1/8 tsp sea salt

1/2 TBS unsalted butter

1 cup uncooked orzo

2-1/2 cups chicken stock

1 tsp fresh thyme (you can substitute dried thyme or even sage)

2 TBS fat-free half and half

1/2 cup grated parmesan

Sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Shaved parmesan for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 425F. In a mixing bowl, toss the diced squash in the EVOO and 1/8 tsp salt, then lay out onto baking sheet in single layer and roast until softened, about 25 minutes. This can be done ahead of time and refrigerated for later use.

Melt butter in medium saucepan. Add the orzo and toast the pasta until it begins to brown and gives off a nutty aroma, about three minutes. Then add the chicken stock and thyme, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and let cook uncovered until all the stock is nearly absorbed into the orzo, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Fold in the half and half, squash and grated parm and heat through, about one minute. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with shaved parm.

Do you have any vegetarian pasta entrees that satisfy your protein cravings? Why not share them in the comments section below? And, as always, thanks for looking at my blog!

3 thoughts on “Meat Free Mondays – Creamy Orzo Risotto with Butternut Squash

  1. I would never have thought to pair cornbread and orzo, but it sounds delicious and you have definitely sold me on it!

  2. My girl and I used to make several recipes wtih orzo until one day I just got bored with it.
    Not sure why, but it never occurred to me to saute the orzo.
    Perhaps I’ll give it another look…

    • For some reason, I associate orzo with baby food. Don’t know where that came from. I’ve used it mostly as the base for braised lamb shank, cooked in a sort of Greek tomato sauce. It works very well here, though. Subtle, but effective.

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