May 142008

I love orzo. It’s such a hybrid – it looks like it wants to be rice, but it’s got the taste and texture of pasta, and because of its small shape it’s perfect in side dishes and salads. This dish that I’m about to share with you is my favorite orzo dish. There’s really nothing not to love about it – it has lots of highly flavored elements that manage to not compete with each other, a couple of highly nutritious veggies, and a wonderfully textured sauce that tastes rich and creamy without actually being either of those things.

Fresh cherry tomatoes star in this dish
Nikon D50

This recipe also has the bonus factor of minimal stove use, which is key in the summer. You use a stove but it’s much more about mixing things together at the end than it is about simmering for hours. I love taking this dish to dinner parties because people tend to expect a typical pasta salad dish – made with mayonnaise and flat-tasting – until they actually try it and realize how much complex and fresh tasting it is than what they were expecting. So give it a try and let it change your ideas of a pasta salad.

Perfect on a summer day!
Nikon D50

Orzo with cherry tomatoes, capers, and lemon
Adapted from The New Mayo Clinic Cookbook
Serves 4

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 clove garlic, minced
4 cups fresh spinach leaves, roughly chopped
1 cup uncooked orzo
3/4 cup pitted olives, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted and finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon fresh grated lemon zest
Fresh ground pepper to taste
In a frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the tomatoes and garlic and cook until the tomatoes are almost tender, about 2 minutes. Set aside.
In a large saucepan, combine the orzo and chicken stock over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the pasta is al dente, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, until almost all of the liquid is absorbed, about 3 minutes.
Add the olives, thyme, capers, pine nuts, cheese lemon zest, and pepper to the orzo and toss gently to mix. Stir in the spinach to wilt it slightly. Serve immediately.

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