Mediterranean Baked Orzo
with steamed artichoke / pesto aioli
This baked pasta dish is made with rice-shaped orzo, cheese, and a Mediterranean tomato sauce. Because orzo are so small, they don't need to be pre-cooked before baking. With steamed artichokes on the side, this seasonal meal that was last featured in 2017 is perfect for early spring.
Steamed Artichokes with Pesto Aioli:
- Artichokes - 4 , trimmed
- Lemon juice - 2 tsp + 1 tsp
- Bay leaf (opt) - 1
- Pesto, store-bought - 1 Tbsp
- Mayonnaise - 1/4 cup
Mediterranean Baked Orzo:
- Onions, medium - 1 , chopped
- Bell peppers, fire-roasted - 3/4 cup , chopped
- Cheese, fresh mozzarella - 5 oz , cubed
- Zucchini - 1 lb , chopped
- Oil, olive - 1 Tbsp
- Tomato paste - 3 Tbsp
- Pesto, store-bought - 1/4 cup
- Italian seasoning - 1 tsp
- Pasta, uncooked orzo - 1 cup
- Stock, any type - 1 3/4 cups
- Artichokes - If prepping right before cooking, get water boiling so that you can start steaming artichokes before continuing with prep. Trim artichokes. Alternatively, you can steam artichokes in an Instant Pot for 9 to 15 minutes at high pressure and do a manual release. (Can be done up to 4 days ahead)
- Onions / Bell peppers / Cheese / Zucchini - Prep as directed. Store separately. (Can be done up to 5 days ahead)
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- Heat oven to 400F / 204C degrees.
- Fill a large stockpot with 1" / 2.5 cm of water. Season with some salt and add the first portion of lemon juice and bay leaf (if using). Place a steamer basket (if you don't have a steamer, you can simmer the artichokes directly in the water) over the water. Put the lid on the stockpot and bring to a boil over high heat. (Alternatively, you can steam artichokes in an Instant Pot for 9 to 15 minutes at high pressure and do a manual release.)
- When water is boiling, reduce to a simmer. Place artichokes, stem-side up, over simmering water. Cover and allow artichokes to steam until the leaves can easily be pulled from the choke, 35 to 60 minutes (depending on the size of the artichokes). Check the artichokes every 10 minutes or so and add additional water, if needed. (Watch this video to see how to steam artichokes.)
- While artichokes steam, heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil and then onions and zucchini with a pinch of salt. Saute until very tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Add bell peppers, tomato paste, pesto (the portion for the orzo), Italian seasoning, and orzo. Stir to combine.
- Pour stock over top and bring to a simmer. Stir in mozzarella and cover with a lid. Bake, covered, until orzo is tender, 13 to 16 minutes.
- While artichokes and orzo cook, make pesto aioli. Combine pesto (the portion for the artichokes), mayonnaise, and the second portion of lemon juice.
- Serve artichokes with pesto aioli for dipping (again, check out this video for tips on enjoying every last bite of an artichoke). Enjoy with orzo on the side.