When RJ proposed to me in June of 2007, I was blown away. Not completely surprised, but quite overcome with the enormity of the step we were taking. He brought me out to the southern most point of the beach in the town where we met. The sun was just beginning to set and the ocean was in our ears when he asked me to be his wife. I just happen to have a painting of the moment (my wedding present to him) if you’d like a visual:
After I said yes and started crying, etc. etc. we went out to dinner. The idea was to enjoy a few moments together before we started calling all of our friends and family. But I was so excited and nervous that it was very difficult for me to concentrate on food. I could barely hold my champagne flute steady! I had ordered the Chicken Statler, and though the chicken was good, I merely picked at it. The orzo on the side, however, was a different story. Despite my shaky mental state, I devoured it! On the menu it was called “Asiago Mac and Cheese” and with those clues, I resolved to recreate the dish in my own kitchen. And every time I do, I am taken back to that wonderful night – and to the memory of the proposal too!
Asiago Mac and Cheese (or Cheesy Orzo Risotto)
3 c. home-made chicken stock (you can, of course, use the box or can from the grocery, but for the best version of this dish, you have to use the rich, home-made stuff)
2 Tbs. butter
1 large or 2 small shallots, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced (optional)
2 c. dried orzo pasta
3/4 c. grated asiago cheese (you can substitute parmesan, or a mixture of the two, for a slightly different flavor)
In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a simmer. Meanwhile, in a separate medium to large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and add the shallots and garlic, stirring to coat. Cook 3-5 minutes, allowing the shallots to become translucent and fragrant. If they begin to brown, turn down the heat.
Add the pasta and stir to coat with the butter. Allow pasta to toast for about one minute. Pour in the simmering chicken broth, and stir to combine. Over medium high heat, boil the orzo in the chicken broth according to the orzo package’s cooking instructions (usually around 10 minutes). If, after that time, the orzo is tender but the stock has not completely absorbed into the pasta, drain what is left of the liquid from the pot (it doesn’t have to be completely dry, though. I usually just tip the pot and drain the excess – holding the pasta back with a slotted spoon – rather than using a colander). Stir in the grated cheese, 1/4 cup at a time, until you have reached a taste and consistency that works for you.