Sometimes a kitchen needs a last minute miracle, and mine is always frozen pesto. At a moment’s notice, I can mix a spoonful of herby, garlicky zip into any dish that needs it, elevating it to a whole new level.
In a perfect pesto world, that frozen sauce is homemade—a mix of tiny leafy Genovese basil, Italian pine nuts, and good olive oil that you pounded by hand with a pestle and mortar.
Recipe: One-Pan Zucchini Pesto Orzo
In my world, though, I usually reach for the battery. I whirl regular bay leaf basil with olive oil and sliced almonds (instead of more expensive pine nuts) until I get a puree thick enough to spoon into an ice cube tray for quick access when dinner is near. (And if your frozen stash runs out, a good store-bought pesto is a reliably herbal Plan B.)
Pesto is typically reserved for a plate of al dente pasta, but it actually works wonderfully as an ingredient, adding color and garlicky verve to soups, stews, or, in this case, a one-pan orzo dish loaded with summer squash and onions.
The key to bringing out the most flavor in a one-pan dish is to cook it in stages. First, I sauté zucchini and onions, letting them burn until they are dark golden. Try not to stir the vegetables too much while they are cooking, as this can prevent browning. The darker they become, the more flavor they will add to the dish, with the bronze bits left stuck to the bottom of the pan forming the base of the sauce.
Then, instead of cooking the orzo in water, I use broth, which infuses the pasta with flavor as the liquid reduces to a silky sauce, spiked with lemon zest for brightness.
The plague doesn’t appear until late in the game, to keep it fresh. Heating it too long would tame the sharp, garlicky bite and dull the green sharpness of the basil. Start with half a cup, which is enough to give the orzo a mild pesto character. Pesto tins may want to pour a little more, but taste as you go.
At the end, I stir in a caprese-like mixture of marinated mozzarella, juicy, sweet cherry tomatoes and fresh mint. The cheese softens but doesn’t completely melt, forming milky pockets to complement the tangy pesto. That perfect balance, created so effortlessly by pesto and cheese, is the real miracle on your plate.