Baked Orzo with Eggplant & Mozzarella

Orzo is a short, rice-shaped pasta common in Greek, Turkish, and Arabic cuisine. We love using it in pasta salads, vegetable soups, and baked pasta dishes, and this baked pasta dish is particularly delicious, with varied vegetables and mozzarella cheese. If you like, you can easily add meatballs or extra vegetables to this dish to create a heartier meal. The dish also provides a non-threatening opportunity for introducing eggplant to kids and new-to-eggplant adults.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large or 2 small eggplants, cut into 3/4-inch cubes

  • Salt & pepper

  • 1/4 cup olive oil

  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices

  • 1 celery stalk, in a 1/4-inch slices

  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped

  • 3 garlic cloves, minced

  • 8 ounces (225 grams) orzo

  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste

  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable stock (or chicken stock)

  • 1 to 3 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped

  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (or more, to taste)

  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese, grated

  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

  • 3 medium tomatoes, diced

Instructions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F.

  2. Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the oil, and once the oil is shimmering, add the eggplant. Fry for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Using a slotted spoon or spatula, transfer eggplant pieces to paper towels to drain.

  3. Add celery and carrots to remaining oil and cook for 3 minutes before adding onion and garlic. Cook together for 5 minutes on medium heat.

  4. Stir in the orzo and tomato paste and cook for two minutes more. Off the heat, add the oregano, mozzarella, parmesan, tomatoes, fried eggplant, lemon zest, salt, pepper, and stock and mix well.

  5. Transfer mixture to an 8×11-inch (2 quart) ovenproof baking dish. Cover with foil and bake 20 minutes, then bake 20 minutes without the foil. (You can increase the ration of foil-on to foil-off time if you don’t like a crunchy pasta lid.) Let sit 5 minutes before serving.

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

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