Last month, McGee and I went to the relaunched Empire Diner in Chelsea. I have no idea what the place was like before, but with Amanda Freitag at the helm it is now a reason to go eat in Chelsea. The service is top notch, the drinks are strong, the decor is the right mix of nostalgic and comfortable and the food is fabulous. By far the best thing we ate that night was the Orzo Mac n’ Cheese.
It wasn’t something I thought to order but I always like to ask waiters what their favorite dish on the menu is, and that night our waiter suggested the orzo without pausing for a beat. No wonder…Orzo Mac n’ Cheese is a freaking revelation! I have no idea why everyone who loves mac n’ cheese hasn’t thought to make it with orzo — its pure genius — about three times more cheesiness to pasta-ness than regular elbow noodles or shells.
Orzo is an often overlooked pasta that happens to be shaped like a huge grain of rice. I don’t know if its the shape, size, or something about the composition, but it is meltingly tender. It also happens to be absolutely perfect for creamy, cheesy sauces… because lets be honest… no one has ever complained about too much cheese (if you have, this blog isn’t for you).
Last night I attempted to make my own version of that perspective-changing mac n’ cheese I had at Empire. Though I didn’t have any truffle butter on hand, I have to say, this turned out absolutely spectacular.
- 1½ cups of orzo
- 2 cups of chopped broccoli
- 4 tablespoons of butter
- 4 tablespoon of flour
- 2 cups of milk, warm
- 1½ teaspoons mustard
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1½ teaspoon of garlic powder
- salt to taste
- 8 oz gruyere, shredded
- 8 oz of brie, cubed
- shredded parmasan for garnish
- Cook the orzo according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
- In a medium pot, over medium-low heat, melt the butter. When the butter is melted, whisk in the flour until the mixture forms a smooth, tan-colored paste. Whisk in the warm milk, half a cup at a time. When all of the milk is incorporated, cook for 2-3 minutes, whisking occasionally until the mixture thickens.
- Add the mustard, nutmeg, garlic powder and a couple of generous pinches of salt. Add the gruyere and whisk until the cheese is melted. Add the brie and allow to cook, whisking occasionally until the brie is completely melted and incorporated. Taste for seasoning, add salt if necessary and remove the mixture from heat.
- In a large bowl, toss the chopped broccoli with the cooked orzo. Slowly stir in the cheese sauce until it is at a desired consistency.*
- If desired, garnish with parmesan and serve hot.