Orzo with Butternut Squash, Spinach and Blue Cheese

With all of the talk about Thanksgiving this and turkey that and every new which way to approach the big meal, it’s funny how much we all pretty much agree that the side dishes are the most exciting part of the conversation.   While the turkey might be the centerpiece of the meal, the side dishes are where we get to express ourselves, be creative and have a little fun.

And this is where I’ll admit to not being all that much fun.  But only when it comes to the Thanksgiving menu, mind you.  In all other respects, fun and I are pretty tight.  But I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to Thanksgiving and don’t really like to mess with what, for me, is and has been the quintessentially traditional Circle B Thanksgiving feast.  So to even entertain the idea of adding or switching out one of my beloved Thanksgiving side dishes for something new is kinda huge.  And that’s how excited I am about this orzo.

First of all, the colors!  It’s a beautiful dish to add to any festive meal, but mostly it’s just the combination of these flavors that are so astonishingly awesome.  At first I thought it was a little fussy to be cutting up the butternut squash into tiny little cubes like that, but one bite and I totally understood… the sweet little bites of roasted squash play perfectly against the spinach and cheese. 

I was sad and frustrated to not have any blue cheese in the fridge, but what I did have was a creamy Israeli feta cheese (goat cheese would work as well) and I have to say that it totally rocked and I would use it again in a heartbeat.  But I can’t wait to try this with blue cheese.  This is an easy dish to put together and I think it would work really well with brown rice instead of the orzo if you were so inclined. 

I found this recipe on The Kitchn website (where else?) a few weeks ago and was instantly excited as I’d been looking for some new ways to use butternut squash.  We had a pretty good crop from the garden this year and I’d experimented with steaming and freezing it.  I’m happy to report that it worked really, really well, although I’m not sure it’s something you have to do since winter squashes keep so well.  But being able to pull a package of already cut up squash from the freezer made this an even easier dish to throw together.  And if you wanted to make this a one-dish meal, you could easily add some roasted chicken.

So if you’re one of those wacky, fun people who like to mess with their Thanksgiving menu and mix it up a bit, you might want to consider this delectable candidate for side dish honors.  Otherwise, I can attest to its deliciousness next to a piece of perfectly roasted salmon.  Here’s the recipe…

Orzo With Butternut Squash, Spinach and Blue Cheese

Click here for a printable recipe

Recipe courtesy of TheKitchn

This is an amazing side dish that really packs some big flavors.  We loved the orzo, but you could certainly substitute brown rice.  Feta cheese works in a pinch if you don't have blue cheese on hand, but be sure you use a creamy feta in a block, not the dry crumbles.  I really like the Pastures of Eden feta from Trader Joes, but any French feta would work as well.  Goat cheese would be another worthy substitute.

Serves 4 to 6

2 1/2 cups cubed butternut squash (1/4-inch cubes)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup regular or whole wheat orzo

2 cups shredded spinach

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1/3 cup blue cheese crumbles

Preheat oven to 425˚F.

Toss butternut squash with the olive oil. Spread into a single layer on a sheet tray. Bake until squash is tender and starting to brown, 35 to 40 minutes. (Squash can be roasted up to 5 days ahead and kept refrigerated. Rewarm before serving.)

Place the spinach in a large bowl and set aside. In a small skillet, heat olive oil until just warm. Stir in garlic, remove from heat and allow to sit until ready to use.

Place the orzo in a pot and cover with at least 2" of water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until tender but not mushy, 8 to 9 minutes. Drain and immediately pour the hot orzo on top of the spinach. Let sit for a few minutes to slightly wilt spinach.

Add butternut squash to the pasta along with the blue cheese and garlic olive oil. Toss until well combined and serve.

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