Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Clearly, even though I keep telling myself I’m not in the market for any more pasta recipes, I am still powerless to resist certain ingredients, and feta and lemon are definitely on the list. This is basically a spring/summer version of one of my favorites, orzo with chicken, lemon, and dill—similar core elements, but cool and refreshing instead of hot and melty, brightened up with lots of green vegetables.

My mouse hand crept relentlessly toward the “Save on Delicious” button as soon as I spotted this Dinner With Julie post in my feed reader. I paused only to think, “Could I add even more green things to this concoction?” After a quick Food Blog Search session, the answer was clear (thanks to this Two Peas and Their Pod recipe): asparagus. That was the only change I made to the original, except that I increased the orzo quantity to use the whole package, and skipped the rice vinegar (which I don’t have) in favor of more lemon juice.

All quantities are pretty much up to you here. I’m not exactly sure how much spinach I used, but I remember thinking there could be more of it; I loved the way its crisp, springy texture contrasted with the softer ones of the pasta and cheese—even after the salad spent several days in the fridge, it magically didn’t seem to get wilted or slimy—and I ended up adding even more of it to the leftovers, until it felt like half pasta and half greens. So I’m guessing at 6 ounces; use whatever seems right to you. Same with the onion; a little raw onion can go a long way, of course, but its crunch and bite are welcome here. And let’s face it, I probably had a heavier hand with the feta. I liked the asparagus, but you could leave it out (and, if you’re making the pasta more than a few hours ahead of serving, you may want to, because asparagus is quicker to discolor when subjected to acid and age). Whatever you do, this is a fresh, incredibly quick and easy, light but satisfying salad that would make a perfect entrée on a hot day or an excellent addition to a picnic, BBQ, or potluck menu.

This is one of those basic discoveries that gets me really excited. Sometimes I glance at a recipe and wonder if it’s really worth my trying, even though it looks tasty, because it seems so simple and overlaps so many other recipes I’ve made before. Because I tend to gravitate toward certain ingredients, I’ve tried a lot of different combinations of them over the years. I try to resist letting my recipe collection balloon out of control; my ideal has always been to have a streamlined, well-curated list of favorites, but of course thanks to the number of food blogs I read and my own need for variety in writing this one, my virtual recipe box is always bulging. I tend to forget the fact (or maybe I just fear it, and the boundless options it represents) that ingredients can be combined in many different ways, and just a small variation can yield brand-new flavors, colors, and textures. In other words, even though this salad didn’t seem surprising or revolutionary to me at first glance (it’s no strawberry pizza, for example), I enjoyed it so enormously that it instantly won a spot in my regular rotation.

1 pound orzo
½ pound asparagus (optional), tough ends trimmed off, sliced into 1-inch pieces
6 ounces fresh spinach, thinly sliced
1 small red onion, finely chopped
4 ounces crumbled feta
Grated zest and juice of 1–2 lemons
2–3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Cook the orzo according to the package directions; drain well, running under cool water to cool it down, then dump into a bowl.

2. If using asparagus, steam until crisp-tender. Run under cold water to stop cooking, then add to the bowl with the orzo.

3. Add the spinach, onion, feta, and lemon zest to the orzo.

4. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle over the orzo mixture and toss well to coat.

Serves: 6
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Great. Will keep in the fridge for up to a week.

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