This is what happened when I called my mother on Friday to tell her that I would be coming over for dinner on Saturday.

Phone rings.

Hello? (I still haven’t figured out why she answers her cell phone as if she were asking a question. She can tell that it’s me from the caller ID.)

Hi mom.

Oh! Hi! How are you?

I’m fine. So I’m thinking about coming home on Saturday but I have a huge test on Monday that I need to study for. So if I come over, it’s just going to be for dinner. Like from 4-8. Otherwise, you won’t see me until Thanksgiving.

Pregnant pause ensues.


Pause again, once more with feeling.

If you’re sure that’s what you want. She says solemnly. Gravely.

Mom. This isn’t about what I want. It isn’t even about you. Or dad. Or Dana. (It’s not you, it’s me? – probably not the right time.) It’s just something that I have to do.

I guess.

Sharp intake of breath.

I guess, if you’re sure.

End of conversation.

Gotta love the Catholic guilt. Or is it the Italian mother guilt? Or probably just the mother guilt, for as my friend Alan likes to say – guilt has no denomination. It’s universal.
Then I get a call from her on Saturday morning.

So what are you cooking for dinner?

Classic. Thankfully, I had a plan. Risotto.

It’s generally the one thing we can agree upon. With risotto we can avoid the eternal argument over whole wheat v. white pasta. We can also get away from the organic v. non-organic meat fight. And then of course there’s the pork/beef v. chicken war of the 21st century, since I am partial to the former while my sister will only eat the latter. Plus I think my dad really likes the idea of sitting in his kitchen and eating risotto, since it is something that to him seems so high-end and gourmet. The kind of thing you can only order in restaurants. (Like me with creme brulee. I guarantee I will become convinced that you rank up there with Daniel Boulud and Rick Bayless if you make me creme brulee.) Which is kind of amazing because risotto isn’t actually that hard to make. It requires a lot of attention and stirring, sure. But it’s pretty hard to mess up. Let’s keep that tidbit of information to ourselves though. Once he learns how to make it, he will try to intervene and give me advice on how to cook it. As it is now, he basically keeps out of it since he thinks that my risotto-cooking abilities are a fine-tuned skill that he knows nothing about. I would like to keep it that way.

But then, and here is where things get tricky, the supermarket across the street from my apartment didn’t have any arborio rice.

Now can you explain to me what kind of supermarket (and we are talking a big chain here. Not to mention any names but cough The Food Emporium cough) on the UPPER EAST SIDE wouldn’t carry arborio rice?!?!?

Breathe, Joanne. Breathe.

Fast forward to Plan B. Orzotto. Similar to risotto. Same exact cooking technique. But made with orzo instead of rice. Brilliant.

And crisis averted.

I went over, we laughed, we talked, we ran the gamut of mini arguments:

Joanne, are you sure you shouldn’t cook that entire two pound box of orzo. I really don’t think that a pound and a half is going to be enough. (For five people. As a side dish. I had to restrain myself from not going off on a rant about portion distortion and how it has poisoned the minds of Americans everywhere.)

Followed by, from my mother, as she looked pointedly at me:

You know. I’d really like to be a young grandmother.

I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.
But the important thing is that they ate it. All of it. And I even managed to sneak some spinach into their systems.

This one’s a keeper.

Orzotto with Spinach
Serves 6, adapted from Williams-Sonoma Risotto

7 cups broth, lightly simmering
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped into small pieces
1 lb spinach, chopped
3 cups orzo (or arborio rice)
1 cup dry white wine
2 tbsp butter
3 tbsp parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil. Add the onion and saute for 4 minutes. Add the spinach, reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the spinach to a bowl. Leave as many of the onions as you can.

2. Add the orzo to the pan and saute for 3 minutes. Add the wine and stir until absorbed. Add the stock one ladleful at a time, constantly stirring and only adding the next ladleful once the previous one is almost evaporated. Do this until the orzo is cooked. Then stir in the spinach, butter, and parmesan cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.

I served this with some sauteed chicken sausage from the local Italian deli. And I am submitting this to Presto Pasta Nights, which is being hosted this week over at Pots and Plots.

You are reading this post on Eats Well With Others at Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and or owner of Eats Well With Others. All rights reserved by Joanne Bruno.
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48 Responses to Orzotto with Spinach

  1. Yasmeen says:

    Simple and nutritious meal ,I’d love it any day πŸ˜€

  2. Karine says:

    Ah family, they are hard to feed, don’t they? My mom is he easiest person to feed…….. But I never want to have to feed my dad. Otherwise I will have an overdose of potatoes and meat…..

    And there is my grandmom too. Haha. Who wonders what I eat because I don’t often eat potatoes.

    I love your meal by the way. Spinach is so great! πŸ™‚

  3. Luigi says:

    Its funny, Orzo to me means Barley, but I know its also the name of the pasta shaped like rice. We call it Risone for some strange reason. Looks delicious with the Spinach, as do the Italian sausages. lol@ your Mum, all Italians seem to be the same no matter where they live, must be genetics. lol…

  4. Donna-FFW says:

    I love the banter you have with your mom.. So priceless.She loves you dearly. You are such the sweetest daughter too.

    Food looks spectacular as always!

  5. Dhanggit says:

    I never tasted orzotto, I saw some in my Italian gourmet shop the other day and was really tempted to buy them…your recipe sounds a good reason to buy them next time! Love spinach on anything, healthy and delicious!

    ps, love the mom and daughter conversation πŸ™‚ wish i could have the same with my mom !

  6. Bob says:

    I’ve never seen Orzotto before, but I love the way it sounds. Looks great too!

  7. Pam says:

    What a great idea, especially if you kind find the right rice!

  8. Debbie says:

    Looks delicious. Something I’d love. The conversation with your mom sounds all too familiar to me. It never ends…trust me on that. My mom is 73 and it never ends……..

  9. SE(Denufood) says:

    i’ve never tasted orzotto before, should be a better substitute for rice..will give it a shot..

  10. Mari says:

    Do moms take a class on this? My mom AND my dad are great with the guilt…they don’t even have to try. and my mom has even figured out how to send the guilt vibe via text messages lol.

    I have to stop reading you blog on an empty stomach lol

  11. Marcia says:

    Ah, do I know the Catholic guilt well.

    I love risotto. It is very hard for me to find arborio rice in this town. It’s usually $6 a pound in the bulk bins at a couple of stores, but I recently scored and found it in a 2lb bag at Whole foods, for $5.

    And, if you’ve never tried risotto in a pressure cooker, you need to. 5 mins at pressure, and you’re done. And it’s perfect (well, I’ve never made it the regular way.)

    I am really impressed that you are cooking so much at your age. When I was in my early 20’s, my fridge had bagels, cream cheese, jam, diet coke, and beer. (I was working during the day in Washington DC, taking grad classes at night. If my boyfriend/now husband didn’t cook it, I ate out. And I had a tendency to cut and/or burn myself when I attempted to cook.)

  12. Kim says:

    I love orzotto and spinach, it sounds delicious! Your parents sound so cute and I bet they just miss having you around. Thankfully my parents really celebrated the 60’s and 70’s (if you know what I mean) and they are totally laid back. I never got too much hassle from them. My husband and I are completely different and I can totally see myself being a pesky mom;D

  13. I love this post, and will be making risotto soon. I have never made it, but after readiung this, willing to give it a shot… If for no other reason than that I have a funny anecdote about risotto…

    And Creme Brulee is very easy. next time you’re in Kansas, you make the risotto and I’ll grill the creme brulee

  14. Palidor says:

    Gotta love family! πŸ˜‰ The orzotto looks great! Love the spinach in it – it adds such nice green color.

  15. monicajane says:

    your food excites me! love orzo and it brings me back to childhood…just gotta find some that isn’t made with wheat! yum…

  16. It’s funny, I still answer the phone as a question too. My mom doesn’t do the guilt thing, she could care less if I visit, my husband’s mom other the hand – argh!

    This orzo dish looks great! I love the addition of spinach!

  17. Megan says:

    Baha ha ha ha ha ha ha ! Guilt has no denomination my friend – I have Italian on my side, and Jewish on my husbands’ side.

    I stand no chance!

  18. Amy says:

    Ah, Joanne. You make me laugh.

    I’m a huge fan of risotto. I can’t believe how many people are intimated by it. As you said, it takes time and a lot of stirring, but it’s SO easy. And versatile. You can put pretty much anything in there and it would be yummy. It’s almost like casserole or meatloaf in that regard. It just sounds fancy.

    Anyway, it never occurred to me to cook any other rice in this method. Really interesting. Sometimes our best discoveries come out of acts of desperation, no?

  19. SnoWhite says:

    that dish looks wonderful!!

  20. Juliana says:

    Oh! You just gave me some idea…I got a huge bag of spinach at Costco and didn’t know what else to cook with all the spinach…now I know πŸ™‚

  21. I love orzo with some roasted tomatoes, dill and cream cheese πŸ˜‰ I will try next time with spinach, sounds delish.

  22. You roll Catholic, mother, and Italian all up into one and I am sure guilt is inevitible! πŸ™‚

    That dish looks fabulour btw.

  23. I love orzo! Sounds very yummy with spinach!

  24. teresa says:

    oh i have had so many awkward conversations like this, it’s not even funny! but you totally scored on your meal plan, i love it!

  25. What a great combination! Hubby can’t have pasta. Another dish hits the dust unless the gluten free people make something like this.

  26. Elra says:

    Send some leftover to my place Joanne, I don’t have anything to eat since this morning. Hungry!

  27. I love your play on orzo and risotto! Your orzotto looks delicious – love it with Spinach! I can see why it was a hit with those yummy looking sausages on the side.

  28. Debinhawaii says:

    Your post is hilarious! Mother guilt especially is universal! Loving the sausages with the orzo and spinach–a great meal.

    You have to think of another great pasta next week–I am hosting PPN. πŸ˜‰

  29. LOL, love the conversation, so classic and one so many of us daughters can relate to. Printing out recipe – love orzo!

  30. Ruth Daniels says:

    Love the post…so funny…so true! The orzo risotto looks fantastic and I’ll never tell your dad your little secret about how easy it is to do.

    Thanks for sharing with Presto Pasta Night. It’s always wonderul when you do.

  31. lovely story and good use of orzo oh and cool you made picadillo sorry I didnt get mine over to ya Rebecca

  32. I love risotto and what a great idea to make it with orzo instead! What a funny post but I can tell you both love each other πŸ™‚ Good luck on the test!

  33. Sounds like my mom! This is a great dish.

  34. Michelle says:

    Joanne, That’s what Mom’s do and they do it so well. And don’t think it ends because it doesn’t. However, I’ve found that if you talk to ANY man like you were their mother, they do want you want. Of course, I don’t like acting like that but it does work.

    Love orzo and your dish is so pretty!

  35. Hey Joanne! Sorry I haven’t been by, busy week, just catching up. I just knew there had to be a reason I liked you so much – nothing could ever be quite as bonding as being Italian! πŸ™‚

  36. Too funny! Great idea using the Orzo in place of rice! Yum!

  37. Johanna says:

    never tried this pasta but would love to – you make it look easy – much easier than dealing with families – can’t live with them, can’t live without them, hey! Am sure you all enjoyed that dinner

  38. Using orzo for this dish Joannae is a stroke of genius. All the flavour is there and it has a texture of its own that would make for a really nice meal.

  39. Lea Ann says:

    This looks soooooo deicious. I bet everyone ate it up! Thanks for the daughter-mom initiation, my mom will be here for the holidays in a week or so. Let the kitchen fun begin! πŸ™‚

  40. I haven’t tried making risotto with orzo yet, but I love how creamy orzo is. Actually, it would be perfect to eat right now!
    So funny about your parents.
    My daughter just wants vegetarian fare, lots of squash – you would like her!

  41. That first photo really drew me in. I definitely agree that the nagging of mothers extends across denominations (and races and cultures) hehe. For some reason, my bf is convinced rice is best served plain and steamed (he’s not even Asian!) but he loves pasta so this is a perfect compromise.

  42. Graziana says:

    orzotto, a great idea! I’m thinking also about farrotto, kamutotto…

  43. Thanks for sending me the information on the Risotto. I, now, see it, in the title. You have just opened the door to a new recipe for me. Thanks.

  44. Shannon says:

    you’ve certainly got an interesting family πŸ˜‰ glad the meal came out! sounds delicious…

  45. Marisa says:

    “…guilt has no denomination. It’s universal.” I love that saying! So true.

    Also, loving the idea of turning orzo into risotto. Thanks for the inspiration.

  46. Chef Fresco says:

    I love orzo – nice addition of spinach. Looks healthy and filling!

  47. Yosha says:

    It’s definitely a mom thing. My mom is neither catholic nor italian but definitely have the guilt thing with one word mastered. I wonder if this gene kicks in the minute you have kids?!

    This looks delicious! Thanks. I’ve been meaning to make risotto. But buying the rice is as far as I’ve gotten so far!

  48. Katy ~ says:

    My mouth is watering for this. It sounds DEE-lish!!

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