Whole wheat orzo pasta and sweet grilled pears pair with a creamy Humboldt Fog goat cheese and crunchy pistachios in this recipe adapted from the new cookbook, Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese.
My family has this thing about mac 'n cheese. It didn't start out well. When my dad was at university, he had two roommates. They decided, between the three of them, that they would take turns cooking for each other. My dad and his friend, Brian, managed to put together decent meals each time their turn at the stove rolled around. Roommate number three, however, had different ideas. Every time he was the chef of the night, he whipped up a large batch of mac 'n cheese. Fluorescent yellow Kraft mac 'n cheese. Every third night...for a year.
My dad claims that was the reason they booted roommate number three from the apartment, but I suspect it had to do with the fact that he came home to find this no-good roommate in bed with the French professor, with said professor wearing my dad's shirt. Yeah, that went over well.
As a result, I never once ate Kraft mac 'n cheese, or any other version, while growing up. So, when Stephanie Stiavetti of The Culinary Life and Garrett McCord of Vanilla Garlic sent me a copy of their gorgeous new book, Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese, I had to pry open my very closed pasta mind.
I know what you're thinking..."How could someone possibly fill an entire book with macaroni and cheese recipes?" This book goes so far beyond any standard recipes. Stephanie and Garrett explore artisanal cheeses (a dream for a cheese lover like me) and how they pair with both pasta and other ingredients in stovetop dishes, casseroles, salads and desserts.
Recipes such as Asparagus Salad with Ricotta Salata, Fava Beans, Mint and Farfalle and Roquefort Macaroni with Beets, Shallots and Poppy Seeds make me yearn to cook my way through this book, page by page, tasting new-to-me cheeses and using familiar ones in new ways. This is a book that I would put on my holiday wish list, or buy for a cheese-loving friend or relative in a heartbeat.
And as in any book that Matt Armendariz photographs, the images are beautiful and enticing.
The recipe in Melt is called Humboldt Fog with Grilled Peaches and Orzo, but I took a few liberties, considering the season and my penchant for cutting fat and calories. That being said, the original recipe is one that I will definitely be trying next summer. Peaches and mint are an irresistible combination!
To me, the sign of a really good cookbook is one that inspires with flavor combinations and methods, but contains recipes that are flexible enough for readers to make adaptations according to their own taste buds or needs. This book definitely does all of that!
Pears are a heck of a lot more abundant right now than peaches, so I made the fruity swap. And since I wasn't as keen on the pear-mint combination, I swapped in fresh basil instead. As for the calories, I made a few simple changes. First the regular orzo switched to the whole wheat variety. The Delallo Whole Wheat Orzo is my favorite. Then I cut back on the amount of Humboldt Fog cheese and reduced the amount of honey (agave nectar) and olive oil in the dressing.
The result? My husband and I fell in love with this pasta. The sweet pears balanced beautifully with the creamy and salty cheese, and the crunch of the pistachios.
If you are unfamiliar with Humboldt Fog, it is a cheese made by Cypress Grove. They have a store locator on their site so that you can find the closest retailer. I typically find it at Whole Foods or higher-end local grocery store. It is a creamy goat cheese with a slight herbal flavor. The line in the middle is not blue cheese, but rather a vegetable-based ash. It is one of my all-time favorite cheeses.
Cut the pears into quarters and remove the core. Place the pears in a ziploc bag, along with the honey (or agave nectar), balsamic vinegar, olive oil and salt. Massage gently to coat the pears. Let rest for 10 minutes.
While the pears marinate, cook the orzo according to package directions. Drain in a colander and set aside.
Once the pears are done marinating, reserve the marinade and place the pear quarters on a hot, well-oiled grill or grill pan, cut-side down.
Cook until the pears are just tender and have some grill marks, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Roughly chop the pears.
In a large bowl, combine the pears, reserved marinade, orzo, pistachios and pepper.
Add the Humboldt Fog cheese and basil and lightly toss. Don't toss too much or the cheese will begin to melt. Serve.
Other whole wheat (or gluten-free) pasta recipes:
Orzo with Grilled Pears & Cheese
- 2 Anjou or Barlett pears
- 2 teaspoons honey or agave nectar
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons olive oil
- ½ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- 10 ounces whole wheat orzo pasta
- ⅓ cup chopped pistachios
- freshly ground black pepper
- 2 ½ ounces Humboldt Fog cheese rind removed & cheese crumbled
- 8 basil leaves thinly sliced
- Cut the pears into quarters and remove the core. Place the pears in a ziploc bag, along with the honey (or agave nectar), balsamic vinegar, olive oil and salt. Massage gently to coat the pears. Let rest for 10 minutes.
- While the pears marinate, cook the orzo according to package directions. Drain in a colander and set aside.
- Once the pears are done marinating, reserve the marinade and place the pear quarters on a hot, well-oiled grill or grill pan, cut-side down. Cook until the pears are just tender and have some grill marks, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Roughly chop the pears.
- In a large bowl, combine the pears, reserved marinade, orzo, pistachios and pepper.
- Add the Humboldt Fog cheese and basil and lightly toss. Don't toss to much or the cheese will begin to melt. Serve.
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