I’m not a huge pasta fan. I didn’t grow up eating it, and like pizza, I didn’t really enjoy it properly until I was at university or after. Though I never had the same obsession with it that others did, I experimented making my own before I went vegan, I had some delicious dishes in Italy, and while living in Panama I did get a bit too into the very cheap Italian place around the corner. But honestly, I don’t feel the same passion for a plate of spaghetti that other people seem to.
However, I’ve start to experiment a lot more with different types of pasta these days, and I’ve got a lot of time for a pasta dish that isn’t just pasta and sauce. This meal started out as a play on my own version of a Nigel Slater recipe, but when I realised I didn’t have half the ingredients, I improvised. Orzo seemed a great choice for this spicy but simple dish, and it was. It’s funny how a recipe with ham, chickpeas and aubergine can turn into a hot orzo salad with kale, but that’s just how cooking goes.
Orzo, also known as risoni, is a form of short-cut pasta that looks like yellow rice. You usually find it in salads and tomato-based dishes with a good dose of spice, and if you’re sick of tagliatelle and “action man bow ties” (in the words of Alan Partridge), it can be an interesting way to shake up your pasta game.
Here, it acts as a great complimentary texture to the soft aubergine and the slightly crispy kale, and it also becomes coated in the lemon-harissa sauce that is leftover from cooking the vegetables. As a hearty but not too heavy meal, you can’t get much better than this.
I’ve been a little vague with cooking times in this recipe, and that’s because when it comes to this type of meal, I think intuition goes a long way. You know better than I do how tender you like your aubergine to be, how al dente you like your pasta to be, and how cooked your like your kale to be. Keep the pots moving and keep tasting, and enjoy being creative and active with your cooking. That’s how it’s meant to be (and remember, never be afraid to season!).
1/2 cup orzo
1 large aubergine, diced (skin left on)
1 large handful kale, roughly chopped
1 small handful fresh basil leaves, torn
around 20 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
the juice of 1/2 a lemon + a little grated zest
2-3 tablespoons Harissa paste
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Place the orzo into a pan and cover it with lightly salted water, allowing an inch or two of water above the orzo
Bring to the boil then simmer on a low heat for around 8 minutes, or until the orzo is just tender with a little bite (al dente)
Drain and rinse with cold water
In a large frying pan, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil
Add in 1 tablespoon of Harissa paste and stir
Add in the aubergine, set over a medium heat, and cook, stirring, until the aubergine cubes are almost tender – adding olive oil when necessary
Add in the tomatoes, the lemon juice and the rest of the Harissa paste, and cook for a few more minutes
Add in the kale and cook for a couple more minutes, stirring to coat everything well
Remove from the heat, stir in the torn basil leaves, season and serve immediately
Last week we enjoyed this as a quick and easy meal eaten with friends in the kitchen; two at a table, on sat crosslegged on the counter, and enjoyed with catching up before we got on with other things. Whether you’re eating like this or sitting down to a long night of good food and conversation, this is a warming, subtly flavoured meal that everyone will love. And it’s even better if you make your own Harissa pasta and grab the basil leaves from your own basil plant. Trust me!