Orzo. Be Afraid.



Years ago when I first started my catering business, I was so excited to share the same foods that I loved with my clients.  It took me a few times of developing menus for potential parties to learn that not everyone likes what I like and I remember one client commenting that I must also own a goat farm because her menu was so laden with dishes containing my beloved goat cheese.  To this day I'll never understand anyone who doesn't like that stuff. 

One summer, I picked up a lucrative contract to provide box lunches for several weeks to school teachers who were attending training seminars.  We did several varieties of the boxes but they all included the standard fare you see in those types of meals:  sandwich, side salad, and dessert.  I prepared this lovely recipe from Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa for roasted vegetables with orzo as a side dish for one round of the box lunches.   When the call came to place the next order, the person followed up by saying, "Please don't send any more of that orzo stuff."   I immediately went into panic mode thinking something had been wrong with the food and when I asked why, she simply said, "They were afraid of it."

Afraid. 

Of pasta. 

I was in such disbelief I couldn't even laugh at the ridiculousness of that statement.  But I giggle now every time I make this dish because I can't help but remember that conversation. 

So consider yourself warned, faint-of-heart readers, because here's the recipe for Orzo with Roasted Vegetables.  I promise it's nothing to be afraid of and it's very simple to make.  Choose a good olive oil because it is really the star ingredient of the dish.  Most times I leave the pine nuts out because my grocery store insists on hiding them from me.  And I've heard rumors that goat cheese works well in place of the feta.  


Orzo with Roasted Vegetables
Recipe courtesy of Ina Garten as published in Barefoot Contessa Parties!

1 small eggplant, peeled and 3/4-inch diced
1 red bell pepper, 1-inch diced
1 yellow bell pepper, 1-inch diced
1 red onion, peeled and 1-inch diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup good olive oil
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound orzo or rice-shaped pasta

For the Dressing:
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
1/3 cup good olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 scallions, minced (white and green parts)
1/4 cup pignolis (pine nuts), toasted
3/4 pound good feta, 1/2-inch diced (not crumbled)
15 fresh basil leaves, cut into julienne

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Toss the eggplant, bell peppers, onion, and garlic with the olive oil, salt, and pepper on a large sheet pan. Roast for 40 minutes, until browned, turning once with a spatula.

Meanwhile, cook the orzo in boiling salted water for 7 to 9 minutes, until tender. Drain and transfer to a large serving bowl. Add the roasted vegetables to the pasta, scraping all the liquid and seasonings from the roasting pan into the pasta bowl.

For the dressing, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper and pour on the pasta and vegetables. Let cool to room temperature, then add the scallions, pignolis, feta, and basil. Check the seasonings, and serve at room temperature.

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