Orzo with Spinach and Goat Cheese

Orzo Pasta
My mom loved orzo pasta. I remember her first discovering it at some fancy restaurant in San Francisco and insisting we work it into the menu at the Treehouse upon returning home. It seems funny now, but it was pretty exotic in Eugene, OR in the 1980’s.
I don’t think it was ever on the permanent menu but I know we once served it as a course for an Elegant Evening, which was a dinner show series that happened quarterly (winter, spring, summer, fall)) and consisted of three courses of food and two “courses” of show tunes performed by local actors and musicians. They also usually featured a show-stealing number or two by my extreme ham of a father, his business partner, Jim Cisler and my three brothers, the most memorable being when they portrayed the cowardly lion (my dad), scarecrow (Jim) and tin man (Danny Kelsay, another partner) from The Wizard of OZ. After my father had passed, there was a ten year anniversary show and my brothers Billy and Pat took over the roles of the cowardly lion and the tin man, much to everyone’s delight (I’m 99% sure my brother Mike played the scarecrow but I honestly can’t remember, it might have been Jim again). I know the whole idea of a “dinner show” sounds sort of cheesy but they were really something special and extremely popular among our local customers. The performers were quite exceptional, the food was always excellent and there was an energy created between the restaurant staff, the performers and the audience that was pretty magical and always just downright fun. I always considered the experience of those shows at a huge blessing – how else would I have developed such a love of Broadway show tunes in Eugene, OR?!
 The restaurant’s sign on Franklin Blvd; Jim, my dad (the lion!), and Danny; Neil Meagher and my brothers Pat & Mike (I think this may have been the first EE); brother Bill, the chef; Steve Ficker with his mom, Mary Lou and my mom and Billy; Pat, the head waiter
 
Anyway, now my girls love orzo pasta, not surprising since they seem to share much in common with their late grandmother they insist on having met before they were born. They requested it last night for dinner so I thought I’d share it today. We had it as our main course with some cut up veggies and sourdough bread but it would make a great side dish as well.
Orzo with Spinach and Goat Cheese
(4 – 6 servings)
12 oz orzo pasta
1 TB olive oil
1 bell pepper (red, yellow or orange)
1/3 large, sweet onion
salt and pepper (start with 1/2 tsp each and add more later if needed)
6 medium/large cremini (aka baby portobello) mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, grated or very finely chopped
3/4 cup white wine
2 tsp fresh parsley, chopped
2 tsp fresh oregano, chopped (or 1 tsp dried)
3 cups spinach (loosely packed), chopped
1/2 cup goat cheese, crumbled
Cook orzo according to directions on the package, drain and set aside
Meanwhile, chop peppers and onion very small (cause we don’t want to overpower the tiny orzo with big chunks)
Place oil, bell pepper, onion, salt and pepper in a large skillet or saute pan and cook, stirring often, on medium-high heat until soft, about 7 – 10 minutes.
Slice of the tough end of the mushroom stems and chop in small pieces.
Add to pan, stir in and cook for about 3 minutes on med-high heat.
Add grated garlic, stir in just to combine and saute only for another minute so the garlic doesn’t become bitter.
Keeping heat at med-high, add white wine (use what you would drink, nothing too sweet, I used Pinot Gris).
Cook until the wine has almost completely reduced. Turn down heat to low until ready for next step.
Chop parsley, oregano and spinach and place in large bowl.
Making sure your orzo is cooked and draining at this point, stir in veggie mixture to spinach.
Then add orzo pasta and stir until spinach is wilted.
Stir in goat cheese.
That’s it! Top with a little more goat cheese and enjoy with a glass of that wine :).
R.I.P. Roger Ebert… l love this quote I found from him.
“Kindness’ covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and I’m glad I lived long enough to find out.” 
Roger Ebert