If you want to trade in the zucchini for 2 cups of small broccoli florets or peas, both are good options.
- 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, as needed
- 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (4 to 6 pieces)
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup chopped)
- 1 1/2 cups dried orzo
- 2 medium zucchini, cubed (about 2 cups cubed)
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup half-and-half (or whole milk)
- 1/2 cup grated cheddar
- 1/2 cup grated fontina or Havarti
1 Sear the chicken: In a very large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper.
Sear the chicken for about 4 minutes on each side, or until browned but not cooked through. (It should still be just barely pink in the center, if you want to cut into one of the pieces to test.) Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.
2 Cook the onions and add the orzo: Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil if needed (if there is still about a tablespoon of oil left in the pan, skip it).
Add the onions and sauté for 2 minutes until they start to become tender. Add the orzo and stir for another minute to coat it with the oil and onions.
3 Add the zucchini and stock, and simmer: Stir in the zucchini, thyme, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Add the chicken broth, raise the heat to medium-high and allow the liquid to come to a simmer, about 3 minutes, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom.
Stir in the half-and half and bring it to a simmer, about 2 minutes. Cover the pan, lower the heat and simmer gently for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the orzo is almost tender. Much of the liquid will be absorbed, but it should still be fairly runny at this point.
4 Add the cheese and chicken: Sprinkle in the cheeses in batches, stirring after each addition until the cheese is all melted. Taste the orzo after all the cheese is added and add additional salt if needed.
Tuck the browned chicken into the top of orzo mixture, and drizzle over top any juices that accumulated from the chicken as it rested.
Cover the pan and simmer for another 3 to 5 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through (165°F with a digital thermometer) and the orzo and zucchini are tender. The orzo mixture will have thickened slightly, but should still be quite saucy, like a very loose risotto.
5 Serve immediately: Serve the chicken and orzo hot from the pan.