Summer Orzo (Pasta) Salad

Summer Orzo (Pasta) Salad

Today we attended our annual Mother’s Day picnic in the park with extended family and some close friends.  It’s a lot of fun but it is also a dance trying to figure out what side to bring that wouldn’t be replicated by five other people.  I was a bit stumped for a bit and then remembered: orzo!  Orzo is the often overlooked pasta for pasta salads but it is really good.  I looked at a few recipes but ended up just making up my own recipe with things we liked.  That’s the great thing about orzo, you can put just about anything into it and it ties it all together.  This is definitely going on our short list of summer favorites.

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz of uncooked orzo (3/4ths of a 16oz box) – cook al dente, drain, rinse with cold water to prevent sticking, and chill)
  • 1 Pint cherry or small grape tomatoes (use yellow and/or red) – slice each one into 3-4 pieces
  • 1.5 Cucumbers – diced into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1 Small head of raw, fresh broccoli (Cut off the stems and separate the florets into individual pieces)
  • 1.5 cups of frozen green peas (run hot water over them just until they are thawed, do not cook)

Instructions:

  • Prepare each of the ingredients as directed above and toss together. Don’t forget to chill the orzo first.
  • Add in 1/2 a cup of dressing and toss again. Anything light flavored with a zing would taste amazing.  I made this one up to use but adding in little bits of each ingredient until it tasted right to me:
    • Mix together with 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil:
    • 2.5 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
    • 2 Tablespoons of dried italian herb mix (oregano, thyme, basil, dash of dill). If I had fresh on hand I would have used that.  But I didn’t so I used dried.
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 1 tsp pepper
    • 1 Tbsp of lime juice (I wasn’t planning to use this, just the vinegar, but it needed a bit more zing to it that the vinegar wasn’t giving). You could use lemon for a more distinct citrus flavor.

The Baked Potato Redefined

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At the beginning of the month our church had a picnic that include a small cooking competition.  Just for fun Luke and I entered in the “potato side dish” category.  We had a date-night-at-home experimenting with the potato base and different sauces.  Luke worked on perfecting the base while I tried out different sauces.  I’ve never been a huge baked-potato fan but with the ratio of potato to toppings equalized I think I’ve been converted.

The competition was informal and fun.  We were pretty excited to get first place!  Here is our prize-winning recipe, exactly how we made it.  We love our cast iron pan but if you don’t have one a wok would probably be the next best thing.  

The Base

You will need a pan with a lid, 2 large baking potatoes, olive oil or butter, salt, pepper, chili powder, a sweet onion, sharp cheddar cheese (yellow or white), and parmesan cheese.  Disclaimer:  We didn’t really measure things out, just went by taste so adjust according to your preference.

  1. Dice the onion into large chunks and start caramelizing them.
  2. Set a cast-iron pan to pre-heat to medium-high on the stove top.
  3. Scrub and dice the potatoes into 1″ cubes (we left the peal on).
  4. Rinse and pat dry the potato cubes (helps them keep their shape).
  5. Add a couple Tablespoons oil/butter and the potatoes into the cast iron pan. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and chili powder.  You want the potatoes to be evenly covered but not coated.  Probably about 1.5 – 2 tsp of chili powder.
  6. Cover with a lid and cook for about 1/2 hr., or until fork-tender on the inside and “toasted” looking on the outside.   Toss them about every 5 minutes to make sure the sides cook evenly.
  7. Take off the heat and stir in the caramelized onion, 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese, and about 3/4 cup of cheddar cheese.  If the cheese doesn’t fully melt, return to heat and stir a bit until it is evenly coating the potatoes and onion.
  8. Keep in the warm pan until ready with the sauce and toppings.

The Sauce

We made this Sour Cream Garlic-Chives Sauce with a few tweaks.  You will only need half a recipe (about 1 cup) for the amount of potatoes above.  Tweaks:  I used 3 cloves of garlic,  added in a couple more Tbsp of chives, and 2 tsp of diced rosemary to make the flavor more bold and interesting.

Serving It

We put about 1/2 cup of the base in individual size ramekins, poured on 2 Tbsp of sauce, and then garnished with some cheddar cheese, chives, and bacon pieces for color.  Serve immediately.

Breakfast Alternative

The idea for cooking the potatoes this way came from a breakfast dish we’ve made for a while.  We make it just like the base using 1/2″ diced potatoes, caramelized onion, cheese, chives, and eggs.  Cook the potatoes like above, add in the onion, cheese, chives, and 2 eggs per each cup of potatoes in the last few minutes and stir around until the eggs are cooked.