If you are an 80’s Cypriot child like me, you must remember the way our grandparents used to cook the pasta. Boiling it in just salted water was as absurd and unreal as a science fiction movie. No spaghetti strand touched the water in the pot unless a chicken was boiling there for hours, thus creating the most delicious stock, the base for any great pasta meal. With a generous sprinkling of grated halloumi cheese and a light scattering of crushed, dried, mint leaves it was a delicious weeknight lunch or dinner for any Cypriot family.
This dish will remind you just that. Only better, creamier and –why not- healthier. It’s an amazing pasta dish, one you would want to dive in the pot with a large spoon. It doesn’t fall in the category of “speedy meals” since the chicken is first sautéed in a large pot then slowly simmered in broccoli water, flavoured with white wine, onions and garlic. This wonderful, tasty, absolutely delicious stock will be the base to cook “Mitsides” whole-wheat orzo. It’s nuttier and more flavourful than regular orzo pasta, plus it’s got a lot more fiber. The orzo as it cooks will become very creamy and really tasty. One would think you finished it off with a whole lot of cream, only with no cream in sight. Serve it mixed with the boiled chicken meat, cooked broccoli and the classic sprinkling of grated halloumi cheese.
- 1 medium broccoli cut into florets (if you are using frozen you will need about 2 heaped cups of chopped broccoli)
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 4 chicken thighs with bone and skin
- 1 medium red or white onion, thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 2 Tbs unsalted butter
- 500 grams “Mitsides” whole-wheat orzo (you can also use “Mitsides” whole-wheat penne or fusilli)
- 1 Tbs Philadelphia type cream cheese
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Grated halloumi and fresh mint leaves to serve
Put 6 cups water in a large pot with a generous pinch of salt. Bring to a rolling boil. Add the broccoli florets, cover pot and simmer for 6 minutes. Have a bowl of iced water next to the stove. Remove broccoli with a slotted spoon (keep the water) and drop in the iced water to stop the cooking process. This way the broccoli will keep it’s bright green colour. Chop broccoli to bite size pieces and set aside until needed. Put the broccoli water in a glass bowl.
Place the pot back on the stove over high heat. When completely dry add the olive oil. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Add to the pot and cook for about 3 minutes until nicely roasted on both sides. Remove chicken from the pot in a bowl. Reduce heat to medium and add onion and garlic with a pinch of salt. Cook stirring often, about 3 minutes, until onion is soft and begins to colour. Increase heat to high and add the wine. Let it evaporate for 30 seconds, then add the chicken back in the pot and the reserved broccoli water. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 50-55 minutes until chicken is cooked through and almost falls off the bone.
Remove chicken from the pot and leave to cool slightly. Add orzo to the pot, together with the butter. Stir and cover pot again. Cook for 11 minutes, stirring a couple of times (orzo might stick to the bottom of the pan but don’t sweat), until orzo is creamy and cooked al dente. Add some water if you think it’s too dry or, drain if you think there is too much liquid. But don’t rush to drain, leave orzo to stand for 5-6 minutes off the stove and it will absorb more of the liquid.
Cut chicken to bite size pieces (discard skin and bone) and add to the pot with the orzo. Add the Philadelphia cheese, chopped broccoli and season generously with freshly ground black pepper. Stir everything together and serve at once garnished with fresh mint leaves. Put some grated halloumi cheese in a bowl and serve along with the orzo.