Comfort seekers unite! This lemon orzo with mushrooms, asparagus, and peas is the healthy comfort food you didn’t know you were looking for. Caramelized lemons infuse this pasta with flavor from the very first step. This veggie packed recipe is so good, you’ll have a hard time believing it’s vegan.
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Nearly a month ago to the day I got a call I knew was coming – my beloved Grandma was dying, and it was time to say goodbye. I packed up my bag and headed up to NJ. On the way I called my cousin Jen and we cried and virtually hugged, and then she got on a plane and met me the next day.
The whole family trickled in from near and far. We visited and snuggled with Grandma. We transferred her to hospice. We reminisced and cried. We cracked jokes, and ate cake with her for her birthday.
And then we waited.
Grandmas…they are STUBBORN 😀
So Jen came back down to Maryland with me for a few days because there is seriously only so much waiting a person can do in a hospice room before said person(s) start to get a little nutty. So we did what we always do when long-distance bestie cousins get some one-on-one QT – we drank wine, and we cooked.
Jen whipped up a lovely lemon orzo chicken situation that wasn’t “OMG lemony” but instead “subtle yummy lemon” – the kind of flavor that leaves you wondering and wanting. Her secret? Caramelized lemons. So I tucked that little tidbit away for a future date, and well, that future date has arrived.
Say hello to my new friend, Caramelized Lemon Orzo. I skipped the chicken and dressed this guy up with meaty portobello mushrooms, asparagus, peas and leeks. All of the spring green veggies! And it’s perfect as is – no meat required.
What is Orzo?
So here’s the deal – orzo is 100% a pasta, but it kind of acts like rice. Sometimes. Under the right conditions.
You can boil it in salted water and give it a good drain, just like pasta.
Or you can toast it in some olive oil and simmer it in broth, like a risotto (spoiler alert – that’s what we’re doing today!).
All that flexibility is why I dig orzo – one bag, so many uses! It also cooks quickly, clings to delicate sauces like a boss, and stretches pretty far – a little goes a long way.
How to Make Lemon Orzo Pasta Step-By-Step
Caramelized lemons infuse this Lemon Orzo with sweet citrusy vibrance from the very first step. You’ll start by sautéing lemons in olive oil, then crisping up hearty veggies in the infused oil. Whole wheat orzo brings a nutty flavor that perfectly compliments the woody veggies. A final layer of flavor is added with fresh zest at the very end. A subtle but balanced lemony affair awaits!
This recipe moves fairy quickly, so go ahead and get your veggies prepped and ready:
- Snap the woody ends off the asparagus, then chop into 2″ pieces
- Clean the mushrooms using a damp towel, then cut into 1/2″ slices
- Trim the dark green leaves from the top and the root end from the leek; slice the leek in half lengthwise, then into 1/4″ slices
- Zest a whole lemon, set the zest aside, then slice the lemon into 1/4″ rounds
- Smash and mince two cloves of garlic
Place a dutch oven, or other large heavy-bottomed pot, over medium high heat. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the pot, heat until shimmering, then place the lemon slices in the oil in a single layer. Saute the lemon slices until they’re browned and caramelized on the bottom, about 4-5 minutes. Flip the slices over using tongs and sautee until they’re caramelized on the other side, another 1-2 minutes (they’ll cook faster on the second side). Remove the lemon slices using tongs and set aside – you’ll add them back to the pot later.
Add the asparagus and mushrooms to the pot then stir to coat in the oil. You may need to add more oil (up to another tablespoon) since mushrooms tend to suck up a lot of oil. Sautee the vegetables, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are browned and crispy and the asparagus is charred and starting to soften, about 10 minutes. Remove the vegetables from the pot using a slotted spoon and set aside.
Add another teaspoon or so of oil to the pan if needed, then add the garlic and leeks. Sautee until the leeks are soft. Then add the orzo, salt, pepper, and dried oregano. Stir, stir, stir until the orzo is mixed into the leeks and is slightly toasted – a couple of minutes at most.
Pour in two cups of vegetable broth and add the caramelized lemons to the orzo mixture. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, check to make sure that all of the liquid is absorbed and the orzo is cooked through. If it’s not, continue cooking another 2-3 minutes.
Fish out the lemon slices, then add the cooked mushrooms and asparagus to the orzo as well as some frozen peas and the reserved lemon zest. Stir everything up and continue cooking another few minutes until all of the vegetables are warmed through. Give it a taste and add more seasoning if needed.
That’s a wrap folks! I originally wrote this recipe with parmesan, but it didn’t need it at all! The end result was so creamy from the orzo and flavorful from the caramelized lemons that I didn’t want to mess with the delicious balance we had rocking in our bowls.
More Spring Vegetable Recipes
- Broccoli Quinoa Salad with Sunbutter Sauce
- Spring Sorghum Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette
- Black Lentils with Roasted Asparagus and Carrots
- Broccoli Pasta Salad with Asparagus and Cherries
- Kale Mushroom Pasta with Toasted Pine Nuts
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Lemon Orzo with Chicken and Spring VegetablesPrint Recipe Rate This Recipe Pin Recipe
- 1 lemon, zested, then sliced into 1/4" coins
- 2 1/2 tbsp olive oil, divided
- 2 large portobello mushrooms, slices into 1/2" pieces
- 1 lb asparagus, trimmed and chopped into 1" pieces
- 1 leek, white and light green parts only, halved and thinly sliced
- 1 c whole wheat orzo
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp sea or kosher salt
- 1 tsp cracked black pepper
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 2 c vegetable or chicken broth
- 2/3 c frozen peas
- Zest a whole lemon and set the zest aside. Slice the lemon into 1/4" rounds. prep portobello mushrooms, asparagus, leek, and garlic.
- Heat a dutch oven over medium high heat. Add one tablespoon olive oil and heat until it shimmers. Add the lemon slices in a single layer; sautee until caramelized, 4-5 minute. Flip the lemon slices and sautee until the other side is caramelized, 1-2 minutes. Remove the lemons slices using tongs and set aside.
- Add a second tablespoon of olive oil to the pot. Add the mushrooms and asparagus to the pan, then toss to coat in the oil. Sautee, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms are browned and crispy and the asparagus is charred and starting to soften, 10 minutes. Add additional olive oil as needed if the pan gets too dry. Remove the vegetables using a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Add the remaining half tablespoon olive oil to the pan. Add the leeks and garlic. Sautee, stirring occasionally, until the leeks soften, 5 minutes.
- Add the orzo to the pan, along with the salt, pepper and oregano. Stir to incorporate the orzo into the leeks and toast the pasta, 1-2 minutes.
- Pour in the broth, return the caramelized lemon slices to the pot, and give everything a good stir. Increase the heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Check on the orzo to ensure the pasta is cooked through and no liquid remains. If not, continue cooking an additional 1-2 minutes.
- Fish out the lemon slices. Return the sautéed mushrooms and asparagus to the pot, along with the frozen peas and reserved lemon zest. Stir the vegetables into the orzo and heat until warmed through, 2-3 minutes.
- Taste the pasta for seasoning, and add additional salt and pepper if needed. Ladle into bowls and serve immediately. Leftovers keep in the fridge in a sealed container for up to 3 days.