Sunday, June 21, 2015

Orzo Salad

First off let me say that I love orzo, the little grain shaped pasta that got it's start mostly in soups and then graduated to other usage. The name actually means "barley" in Italian and it is also sometimes referred as risoni which translates to "big rice".  I cook it like regular pasta but apparently it can be prepared in a similar manner as risotto, sauteed then slow cooked in liquid in which case the finished dish is called orzatto, I will likely give this a try in the winter.

Orzo is quick, around eight minutes to al dente, versatile and holds well which is always an asset. For years I used it as a side dish, just tossed with some butter, cheese and some herb like basil or Italian parsley, as an addition to soups and of course in pasta salads. Now pasta salads have a bit of a bad reputation in the foodie world for some reason but in the summer I like them because I can make a large batch and use it a couple of times during the week without heating up the house. I also do this with potato salad, Greek salad and coleslaw, without dressing the last two, so that I can just quickly cook some protein and dinner can be ready in fifteen minutes or so.

We are off today for a combined family father's day BBQ, along with watching the Canadian women's soccer play their round of 16 match against Switzerland, at friend's home and I volunteered to bring starch. We are having leg of lamb as the main so I thought "Hey, let's make an orzo salad" because to me orzo has always been "Greek pasta", though I'm not sure why except it is often found in Greek restaurants here in Vancouver baked with lamb in tomato sauce, a dish known as youvetsi. I woke up this morning and looked at what I had to make the salad, went to work and came up with something I thought would work based on what I had in house, plus the fact that some allergies/picky eaters meant I couldn't use nuts or tomatoes, two items I would normally use in an orzo salad. Also I knew there was going to be a Greek salad on the menu so I wanted to eliminate olives and feta and go easy on the peppers, challenge accepted.

I cooked the orzo al dente and then tossed it still hot with goat cheese and a lemony vinaigrette, the standard vinaigrette ratio is three parts oil to one part vinegar but I figured the creaminess of the orzo and goat cheese needed more citrus so I made a large batch of vinaigrette at 3:1 and then took 1/2 cup and added the juice of one lemon, whisked it and tossed the still hot orzo/cheese combo in the vinaigrette. Meanwhile I chopped a head of broccoli into bite size pieces and tossed it with a chopped red pepper, four cloves of finely sliced garlic, salt and pepper and then drizzled it with olive oil and roasted for 12 minutes at 425 degrees. When the broccoli/pepper combo was done I tossed it with the orzo along with some chopped scallion and minced Italian parsley and left it on the counter.

Twenty minutes later I went back to taste and it was amazing, the flavours worked so well, the creamy pasta/cheese with the raw scallion/parsley and the earthy taste of the roasted veg and garlic. This is definitely a keeper, served room temperature is better than chilled so if you make ahead give yourself time to let the salad warm up, better still make it an hour before dinner.

Anyway, here's the recipe, remember cooking is art so measurements are as close as I remember but not 100% accurate.

New Orzo Salad

  • 500 grams Orzo
  • 100 grams goat cheese
  • 1/2 cup vinaigrette (3:1 oil:vinegar, a touch of Dijon and salt whisked)
  • juice of one lemon
  • one big head of broccoli, cut into florets, stem cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 red pepper, bite sized pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced very thin
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallion, green part only
  • 1/4 cup Italian parsley, minced 
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • some olive oil
Preheat oven to 425 degrees

Add the juice of one lemon to vinaigrette and whisk.

Cook orzo in a large pot of boiling water until al dente, taste at about 7 minutes and expect it to take about 8, drain pasta and toss with goat cheese and vinaigrette. It's always important to check pasta while cooking it, the times are just general estimates

Toss the garlic, red pepper and broccoli in enough olive oil to coat, don't drown it, and add salt and pepper to taste. Spread the mixture on a baking sheet and cook for 10-12 minutes in the 425 oven, stirring once or twice. The broccoli should be browned aroud the edges and the garlic browned but not burnt.

Toss roasted veg, parsley and scallions with pasta and let sit for 30-60 minutes to reach room temperature and serve. If you make ahead refrigerate and then take it out 60 minutes before service to allow it to come to room temperature.

I have a little bit of this reserved so I can try it for lunch with leftover grilled chicken some time this week, I have a good feeling about it.

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