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Orzo Skillet Dinner is an easy and quick dish

Orzo Skillet Dinner is a meal based on ease of preparation, customization and good, healthful ingredients. Photo by Sue Doeden1 / 2
You can get creative with this recipe, picking and choosing the vegetables your family enjoys. Photo by Sue Doeden2 / 2

I've gained a renewed appreciation for quick suppers from a skillet. As a young mother, that sometimes meant the meal began in a box packaged with everything needed except the meat. These days, I pay much closer attention to every single ingredient that goes into the meals I prepare. I prefer to use fresh ingredients and add my own seasonings.

Last week I realized it's not just cooks with young active families who need a repertoire of meals made in minutes. After spending a day with my grandchildren last week, I realized hip and high-spirited grandmas sometimes need to get a meal on the table in little time.

By 7 in the morning, I was seated in a wooden wagon behind a four-wheeler being pulled out to a raspberry patch with three of my grandchildren, ages 10, 7 and 4, and their mom. Seven pounds of raspberries later we were in my kitchen eating the fresh-picked ruby red berries with Hungarian pancakes prepared by their (grandpa) Pops while we were out in the field. Next, Pops and the kids packed their putters into the trunk and off to the golf course they went, leaving me behind to pack a picnic lunch. We met at the park for lunch and playtime. A short browse through a few favorite downtown stores, a visit to the skateboard park to watch the talented teens put on a show, a stop at the ballpark to watch the end of a Little League game, some practice batting on a green space at the park and, finally, seated under a tent to watch a healing powwow. When we got home barely an hour before meal time, we were all hungry and I was running out of gas. Lucky for us, my daughter-in-law had gone shopping while we were playing the day away. All of the ingredients needed for tacos were lined up and ready for our quick-to-make meal. Whew, saved by my daughter-in-law.

Orzo Skillet Dinner is a meal based on ease of preparation, customization and good, healthful ingredients. Once a big pot of water comes to a boil, orzo, a small rice-shaped pasta, cooks in only 8 to 10 minutes. While the orzo is cooking, onions, peppers and garlic can sauté in olive oil in a large skillet. Those sautéed ingredients will add their boisterous flavors to all kinds of garden-fresh vegetables. It's at this point in the preparation that you can get creative, picking and choosing the vegetables your family enjoys. I happened to have a young zucchini in a market basket I purchased from a local grower. If I were to make this today, I would have some steamed green beans leftover from last night's dinner to slice and add. Cut the corn kernels from the last couple ears of cooked sweet corn and stir them into the skillet.

If you don't have access to fresh herbs, dried will suffice in a pinch. A rule of thumb that has worked for me is to use 1 teaspoon of dried herbs for every 1 tablespoon of fresh, minced herbs. Give the dried herbs a little pinch as you sprinkle them into the skillet to release more flavor.

I crush whole canned tomatoes by hand, over the ingredients in the skillet, reserving juice remaining in the can to add if extra moisture is needed. When tomatoes are ready to pluck from the garden, chop them small and swipe them into the pan, juice and all. This way, you can leave the canned tomatoes in the cupboard for another time. A can of cannellini, or white kidney beans, rounds out the skillet meal, making it complete and ready to eat with whole grain bread and a bowl of fresh fruit.

I think it was about 9 that evening after our day of picking, playing and picnicking when our daughter-in-law looked at two tired grandparents fighting sleep in the living room and said, "You guys just go to bed now." It's not just quick and easy skillet meals that hip and high-spirited grandmas need in their recipe file. A good night's sleep is pretty important, too.

Orzo Skillet Dinner

1 cup uncooked orzo

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 cups chopped onion

1 large red bell pepper, chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, minced

2 chubby cloves garlic, minced

1 (6-inch) zucchini, chopped

1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped, optional

1 tablespoon minced fresh mint leaves

1 tablespoon minced fresh dill

1/2 teaspoon fresh marjoram

1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained

1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, crushed, reserving juice

Salt and pepper, to taste

Cook orzo in large pot of gently boiling water for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until al dente, not hard and not soft, but firm to the bite.

While orzo is cooking, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté onions. Add peppers and continue to sauté until tender. Add garlic and zucchini and stir into vegetables in skillet. Sauté for 1 minute. Add chopped artichoke hearts, mint, dill and marjoram. Gently stir in beans and tomatoes. Simmer for several minutes, stirring occasionally and adding as much reserved tomato juice as needed.

When the vegetables are hot, add cooked and drained orzo. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot. Makes 4 servings.

Tip from the cook

If any Orzo Skillet Dinner remains, pack it up to take to the office for lunch. Keep it cool until meal time, then just heat it up in the microwave oven in the lunch room. Watch out, though. You might have to share