Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Orzo and Roasted Vegetable Salad

First, I'll apologize for the lack of a visual on this post. Our main computer took a dive and I can't get to our photos. I'm hoping they're still there. yikes! When we're back up and running, I'll revise this post to add a photo.

Last weekend two lovely ladies and I co-hosted a baby shower for a mutual friend. We served lunch under the pergola on a gorgeous patio. Everything was simply but beautifully decorated and we lucked out on the weather, especially considering it is mid-October. No breeze and mid-70s. Perfect.

Continuing our simple but beautiful theme was the menu. We greeted guests with from-scratch French onion dip, sparkling limeade, iced tea, and mineral water. We continued with chilled grilled shrimp skewers, greens lightly dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar then finished with Hawaiian sea salt, and Orzo and Roasted Vegetable Salad. We finished the day by serving delicious mini peanut butter chocolate cupcakes. The beauty of this menu was that it was all done in advance so guests walked into the party and were greeted by a relaxed hostess (or hostesses J).

Yours truly was responsible for the French onion dip and Orzo and Roasted Vegetable Salad, which was adapted from a Barefoot Contessa recipe my sis-in-law turned me onto years ago when we gave a bridal shower for a dear friend. The veg was all roasted and refrigerated the day prior. My OCD tendencies (I only have a few...) didn’t allow me to throw all the veg on one sheet pan and toss it in the oven. No, I roasted each separately to make certain nothing over cooked (and, no, I don’t have two ovens). I even went so far as to chop the scallions, juice the lemons, and toast the nuts so all I had to do the day of the party was cook the orzo, cut up the cheese, and throw it all together. Easy but there are several steps.

Admittedly, I haven't changed that much of this recipe but I think my changes are worthwhile.

Orzo and Roasted Vegetable Salad
1 small bunch of asparagus*
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
1 red onion
1 whole head of garlic*
olive oil, salt, and pepper

½ pound orzo pasta
2 cups chicken stock*
2 cloves garlic, crushed*

 cup lemon juice
 cup olive
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper

4 scallions
1½ cups cubed feta (not crumbled, if possible. The French feta I used ended up a
      combination of cubes and crumbles...)
15 fresh basil leaves, julienned
½ cup toasted walnuts, chopped*

* = where substitutions or additions from the original recipe have been made

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut the red and yellow peppers and onion into 1-inch pieces and place on a sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 minutes (check at 30 minutes). Use your hands to make sure all the pieces are coated. Cut the top quarter or so off the head of garlic and drizzle with olive oil and salt. Roast with peppers and onion. Cut asparagus into 1-inch pieces. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for ten minutes.

In a large pot add the chicken stock to the pasta water and bring to a boil. Add the crushed garlic and salt the water. Boil orzo per package instructions then drain.

While the pasta is boiling, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper and whisk together. Squeeze the garlic out of the head and chop/smash fine and whisk into the dressing.

In a large bowl combine roasted veg, hot pasta, and dressing. (It’s important to add the dressing to hot pasta so it soaks it up.) Cool in fridge until just before you’re ready to serve then add the scallions, feta, basil, and nuts.

There are so many ways to change this and make it your own:
  • Israeli couscous, barley, or brown rice instead of orzo
  • Use all stock instead of water to boil the pasta or grains
  • Steam the veg to reduce the fat content
  • Add blanched green beans, fresh tomatoes, arugula or other greens
  • Switch the cheese to shaved parmesan, manchego, or omit it entirely
  • Change the basil to tarragon, parsley, thyme, or whatever you like
  • Incorporate pitted olives or marinated mushrooms
  • Make it a main course with shrimp, salami, chicken, tofu, or even tuna (to create a nicoise-inspired salad)
  • Do as the original recipe suggests and serve it warm.

Mmmm... so yummy and healthy, too. Had lots of raves and requests for the recipe so here it is. Off to put the folded laundry away. … yaay

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