Pasta · Salads

Simple Salads, Part 1 – Summer Orzo Salad

June always seems like a pasta salad kind of month to me. It’s the perfect picnic food and a refreshingly cool meal on a hot summer day.  I firmly believe that pasta salads must include three ingredients: juicy tomatoes, tart lemon juice, and rich olive oil. Cheese is an added bonus. And I really like the make-ahead kind that sits in the refrigerator until you are ready to eat it! And that’s how I came up with my summer orzo salad. It has my favorite salad ingredients, it’s best if made ahead of time, tastes delicious cold, is super easy to make, and tastes like sunshine. It’s just perfect, really.

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All you need are tomatoes, fresh lemon, parsley, feta, olive oil and orzo pasta. You could also add some black olives and it would be the perfect Mediterranean combination. But I hate olives, so you won’t find them in my version! Sometimes I swap out the fresh tomatoes for sun-dried tomatoes and it is a different kind of delicious. The possibilities are endless with this salad, just go with your favorites…or what you have available in your kitchen. The one thing you absolutely, must not ever eliminate is the lemon zest; it adds a dimension to this salad that makes it taste like sunshine on a summer day in June.

I like to make this salad on lazy days to accompany a sandwich, some soup or if I need to put together a picnic lunch. Today I made it to go with some leftover soup, a fresh loaf of ciabatta bread that I impulse-bought at the store (it smelled heavenly and was still warm!) and a spicy carrot-tomato tapenade that I made yesterday. While I was at the store earlier today, I saw some beautiful, plump yellow and red cherry tomatoes and impulse bought those as well. (It’s Ramadan and I’m fasting, so I’m shopping on an empty stomach. I also bought a candy bar and Pringles, fyi.) After I got home, I made the summer orzo salad and now I’m letting it chill in the refrigerator for about eight hours before we eat it. The orzo pasta absorbs the flavors of the lemon as you let it chill, so never serve it immediately after making it!

Ingredients (serves 4-5):

  • 3/4 cup uncooked orzo pasta (yields 2 cups cooked)
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
  • 4 oz feta cheese
  • 2 lemons, zest and juice
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • salt

First, set a pot of water on the stove for the orzo pasta, which will be prepared according to the directions on the package. While you are waiting for the water to boil, wash the tomatoes, lemons and parsley. I like to soak my parsley for a few minutes and double rinse to make sure to get rid of any dirt and grit.

Slice the cherry tomatoes in half or quarters and  put them in your serving bowl. Remove the stems from the parsley, finely chop it, and add it to the bowl.


The water for the pasta is probably boiling now, so add some salt to the water and pour in the pasta. Set a timer for the cooking time indicated on the pasta’s package and reduce the heat to medium so it doesn’t boil over.

Using a microplane or zester, zest the lemons. I prefer a microplane; however, if you don’t have a either, you can use a vegetable peeler and knife, just follow these instructions. When you zest a lemon, you want to only get the very top layer of the lemon. You don’t want to zest the white layer underneath the yellow, which actually tastes bitter. All the lemony goodness and oils are in the shiny yellow skin over the white rind. And as an added bonus, some lemon oil wafts through the air as you zest the lemon and counts as an aromatherapy session!

Next, roughly chop up the feta into small pieces and it to the bowl. You could buy already crumbled feta instead, but I’ve noticed that pre-crumbled feta is pretty dry and not as tasty as a block of feta. So I always chop up a block of feta for salads.


When the orzo pasta is ready, rinse it with cold water and strain it using a large, fine mesh sieve/strainer. Add the pasta to the bowl.

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Juice or squeeze the lemons, making sure to remove any seeds and add the juice to the pasta bowl. Add the olive oil and some freshly ground black pepper.

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Mix the pasta well and give it a taste. Add salt, if needed. The feta is salty and gives the salad some saltiness, but I usually have to add little bit of salt as well. So taste first, then add the salt!


Cover in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. The pasta will soak in the lemon and olive oil as it chills, which will give the pasta a lovely citrus taste. I usually allow it to chill at least 6-8 hours before serving. You could also make it a day ahead of serving and just let it chill over night. Enjoy!

Summer Orzo Salad

  • Servings: 4-5
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A refreshing and easy pasta salad that has a bright, citrus flavor.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup uncooked orzo pasta (yields 2 cups cooked)
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
  • 4 oz feta cheese
  • 2 lemons, zest and juice
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • salt

Directions

  1. First, set a pot of water on the stove for the orzo pasta, which will be prepared according to the directions on the package.
  2. While you are waiting for the water to boil, wash the tomatoes, lemons and parsley.
  3. Slice the cherry tomatoes in half or quarters and  put them in your serving bowl.
  4. Remove the stems from the parsley, finely chop it, and add it to the bowl.
  5. The water for the pasta is probably boiling now, so add some salt to the water and pour in the pasta. Set a timer for the cooking time indicated on the pasta’s package and reduce the heat to medium so it doesn’t boil over.
  6. Using a microplane or zester, zest the lemons into the bowl.
  7. When the orzo pasta is ready, rinse it with cold water and strain it using a large, fine mesh sieve/strainer. Add the pasta to the bowl.
  8. Juice or squeeze the lemons, making sure to remove any seeds and add the juice to the pasta bowl. Add the olive oil and some freshly ground black pepper.
  9. Mix the pasta well and give it a taste. Add salt, if needed. The feta is salty and gives the salad some saltiness, but it usually needs a little bit more salt. So taste first, then add the salt!
  10. Cover in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. Allow it to chill at least 6-8 hours before serving. You could also make it a day ahead of serving and just let it chill over night.

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