Sometimes the kitchen needs a last-minute miracle, and I always have frozen pesto in my kitchen. At a moment’s notice, I can add a spoonful of herby, garlicky zip to any dish that needs it, taking it to a whole new level.
In a perfect pesto world, that frozen sauce is homemade—a blend of small-leaf Genovese basil, Italian pine nuts, and good olive oil that you pound by hand with a mortar and pestle.
Recipe: One-Pan Zucchini-Barley Pesto
However, in my world, I usually reach for the food processor. I regularly whisk floppy-leaf basil with olive oil and slivered almonds (instead of expensive pine nuts) until I get a puree so thick that I can use it swiftly at dinnertime. spoon into an ice cube tray for (And if your frozen stock runs out, good store-bought pesto is reliably herby Plan B.)
Pesto is typically made for a plate of al dente pasta, but it actually works wonderfully as an ingredient, adding color and garlicky flavor to soups, stews, or, in this case, A one-pan orzo dish filled with summer zucchini and onions.
The key to getting the most flavor out of a one-pan dish is to cook it in stages. First, I fry the zucchini and onions, letting them fry until they’re deep golden. Try not to stir the vegetables too much during cooking, as this can make it difficult for them to brown. The darker they get, the more flavor they’ll impart to the dish, plus the bronze pieces will stick to the bottom of the pan and form 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 turns into a silky sauce, mixed with lemon juice for brightness.
Pesto doesn’t appear until late in the game to preserve its freshness. Heating it too long will reduce the pungent, garlic-like flavor and reduce the greeny pungency of the basil. Start with a half cup, which is enough to give the orzo a mild pesto character. The pesto stains may want to drip a little more, but you’ll taste it as you go along.
Lastly, I add a caprese mix of marinated mozzarella, juicy, sweet cherry tomatoes, and fresh mint. The cheese softens but doesn’t melt completely, creating milky pockets to complement the tangy pesto. That perfect balance, created so effortlessly by pesto and cheese, is a real miracle on your plate.