Creamy Orzo Chicken with Vegetables
1 tbs, olive oil
2 average-sized chicken breasts (about 1 to 1 ½ pounds), cut into chunks
2 red bell peppers, cut into ½-inch pieces
8 ounces white button mushrooms, quartered
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 pound orzo pasta
8 ounces cream cheese, softened (can use 1/3 less fat cream cheese)
1 cup reserved pasta water (I used about 2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley (optional)
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice (from 1/2 a lemon)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the orzo and cook according to package directions until tender. When the orzo is ready, reserve 1 cup or more of the pasta water (ladling it into a small bowl is my method) and then drain the orzo and set aside.
While the orzo cooks, in a large nonstick skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Add the chicken to the hot oil and brown on all sides. When nicely browned (but not all the way cooked through), add the peppers, mushrooms and thyme. Stir and let cook for about 5 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the mushrooms and peppers have softened and browned and most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
In the skillet over medium heat, add the softened cream cheese (if you forgot to let the cream cheese soften at room temperature, no worries! Pop it in the microwave for one minute on 40% power) in bite sized chunks and stir so that the cream cheese melts and coats the chicken and vegetables. Add the reserved pasta water and bring to a simmer. Add ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Stir. Add the orzo, Parmesan, lemon juice and fresh parsley. Stir to combine and heat through. Garnish with additional Parmesan and parsley.