There are roughly 267431 different shapes of pasta emanating from that huge boot-shaped pasta factory, Italy. They really do have all types of shapes, and many of them are inspired by commonplace, everyday items. Take for instance penne, which are inspired by quills once used for writing fiery love letters, or la cosa nostra death writs. On the other hand, orecchiette means 'little ears', and you don't have to stare at them for too long to see the side of your head made farinaceous.

There is no mistaking what the wonderful pasta risoni represents. They look like nothing more than a packet of rice - albeit with a somewhat yellowish hue. Tiny pasta such as risoni generally find themselves ending up in soups, or minestra - and indeed that is the way I have used them for many years now. A while back we had a mushroom soup that was punctuated with risoni on our menu. We would order several small 500 gram packets from our dry-goods supplier at a time, but on one occasion they brought us a single, huge 10 kilogram sack of the stuff. Unless we got an unprecedented rush of mushroom soup orders, it was clear that I had to find other ways of using up this tiny, lovely pasta.

Oftentimes from then on, we would use risoni as the basis of staff meal at work. That was when I discovered that simply relegating risoni to the task of soup-filler was missing half the point. When you mix cooked risoni with good olive oil, herbs and lemon the result is like a pasta hybrid rice salad, yet so much more than either of those alone. The permutations and possible ingredients are virtually limitless - once you get the concept of cool, rice shaped pasta, dressed with a luscious mix of olive oil, garlic and lemon (which is essentially a salad dressing), then the inclusion of more ingredients like tomatoes, basil, pine nuts, parmesan and the like will be as effortless as they are tasty.

The following recipe is one I used to accompany a Spanish inspired chorizo stew I made recently. I was handing these recipes over to a kitchen-novice friend of mine, so they really had to be tasty, nourishing and easy to make. This dish is so versatile that you could really use it to accompany pretty much any substantial meat, chicken or fish dish that you may have simply served rice with instead. And of course, it makes a sensational vegetarian or vegan dish by itself.

As always, things get exciting with the substitution. Feel free to let your larder and imagination be the guide and you will be rewarded with a side dish that may just well end up taking centre stage.

If you have trouble finding risoni, an almost identically shaped pasta is orzo - which is Italian for barley. Or else, simply use any small, rice-sized pasta you can lay your hands on.




Ingredients

Method

Heat a large pot of water to the boil and season well with salt. Add the risoni, stir well and cook until just slightly firm in the centre. About 9 or 10 minutes. Drain the pasta, and run under cold water to cool the grains down and stop them from cooking any further. Drain completely, then splash with a small lug of olive oil. Toss well so all the pasta is well coated, then set aside while you prepare the rest of the dish.

Grate the lemon skin on the finest holes of your cheese grater. Set this lemon zest aside, then juice the lemon.

Heat a medium size pot to a medium heat. Add the olive oil, garlic and lemon rind, and cook over a polite heat for 2 or so minutes - do not brown. Add the parsley, risoni and lemon juice and stir well to combine. Season well with salt and pepper (taste before serving - it may well need more salt than you would think). Do not cook for more than a minute or so after adding the lemon juice, otherwise the zingy citrus flavour will be dulled.

What you are looking for is a pasta dish that is generously dressed - plenty of olive oil drizzling onto the plate, and zestily balanced by lemon. Serve immediately, or store at room temperature for a few hours until you are ready to eat.

Buon appetito.

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