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December 2, 2003

Small Time Cooks - Pinot Grigio Vegetables over Orzo

The wind cut into me like a surgeon's knife. Winter was coming, and I wasn't happy to see it. Being a private eye means being outside all the time, and in the winter that means facing the cold. Walking the streets, I had my mind on a warm kitchen more than work. Downtown is full of cases for guys like me, but it's also full of great restaurants.

I called Maria from downtown to see what was cooking. It was orzo. I love the stuff. Orzo is small pasta, almost like a super-sized rice grain. It's quick-cooking, and it goes great with vegetables.

We decided to make sweet potatoes to go with some orzo and vegetables. I wanted to use some good Pinot Grigio I had just bought. Great cooking wine can make all the difference with some dishes. I had to get the stuff from a friend's private collection: all the cheap wine I had tasted like paint thinner.

These dishes serve 3

Pinot Grigio Vegetables over Orzo

1 cup dry orzo

1 cup uncooked green beans

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into strips

2 small onions

1/2 cup Pinot Grigio

3 cloves garlic, minced

dash of salt

olive oil

Peel the onion, slice into rings, and slice each ring in half. Start the orzo before you cook the vegetables. Heat olive oil in a pan, and add the garlic, mushrooms, bell pepper, and onion. Stir for a couple of minutes, and then add the wine. Sautée the vegetables until the liquid reduces or is completely absorbed. Meanwhile, steam the green beans in a pot with some water. When they are done, salt them and add them with the corn to the vegetables. Turn off the heat and stir everything together. Serve over a bed of orzo.

A few notes: Pinot Grigio is a light, crisp white wine. A white cooking wine is fine to use, but if you can get good Pinot Grigio, it will taste great. You can tell the difference in the taste after the alcohol boils off. With a bad wine, you can taste and smell the grapes used to make it, but with a good wine, the other flavors come out. Turning Leaf is good, and its price by volume is only a bit more than ordinary cooking wine. Small onions are a specific type of onion that fit in the fist. If you cannot find them, use a small yellow onion. As for the vegetables, use whichever ones suit your tastes. Take out the bell pepper or add in asparagus. Another good combination would be winter squash, zucchini, eggplant, and mushrooms with thyme.

Sweet Potatoes

4 large sweet potatoes

2 Tablespoons butter

dash of salt

2 Tablespoons brown sugar

You can either prepare sweet potatoes by baking them or by microwaving them. Before cooking, poke holes in the potatoes with a fork. To bake, cook them on a baking sheet at 375 degrees for about an hour, until soft all the way through. Flip after about 30 minutes, but check every 5 to 10 minutes. To microwave, put the potatoes on a plate and microwave on high at 2-minute intervals, flipping each time until the potatoes are soft all the way through.

Once cooked, let them cool until they are safe to touch. Peel the potatoes, discarding the skins. You should be able to peel them with your hands. Mash the sweet potatoes together with the butter, salt, and brown sugar. Add the butter and brown sugar to taste (those are not hard and fast measurements at all). Reheat in microwave or oven if they have become cold.