Vegetarian: Baked Orzo with Chard, Feta and Dill


[Photograph: Lauren Rothman]

A baked pasta dish such as lasagna or ziti is often one of the highlights of a vegetarian diet: they're hearty, filling, and, importantly, also crowd-pleasers, sure to delight your omnivore friends when you invite them over for dinner. Besides being great vehicles for cheeses like ricotta and mozzarella, they also accommodate nearly any veggie you would want to mix in.

But here's the thing about those pasta dishes: sometimes they can be unnecessarily heavy. That's why recently when a friend served me baked orzo with plenty of sautéed vegetables (but just a little bit of cheese) folded in, I was intrigued: the dish was full of flavor and texture without being overly rich.

I got to thinking about the possibilities of baked orzo, which uses raw pasta and liquid and is baked, covered, in the oven until the orzo becomes tender. The version I'm sharing here takes a Mediterranean approach, using canned tomatoes, tender dark greens, and creamy feta cheese. The recipe comes together in minutes: after sautéeing the vegetables, you add the tomatoes and orzo, stir in the cheese and a big handful of fresh, fragrant dill, and then into the oven it goes. Forty minutes later, you've got yourself a big, satisfying dish of pasta that's soft underneath and just a little crispy on top.