Summertime Orzo Salad with Roasted Tomato and Olives
I’m not going to give you a lot of introduction to this salad other than to say that it’s a summertime favourite that I also just happen to eat year round. Well, why not? It’s cheap, it’s easy, it’s quick to make, and the leftovers are perfect for lunch the next day because sitting certainly does it no harm. Plus, it’s a versatile side dish and it has proven itself time and again when I’ve paired it with fish (seared tuna loin, back when we could afford it), grilled flank steak, baked chicken….pretty much anything. If you want to make it a meal add a can of chickpeas and you’re good to go!
Oh! Are you familiar with orzo? If you’re not, it’s a small rather flat pasta noodle that looks like rice. If you can’t find orzo in your supermarket (where do you live, NUNAVUT?!) you can make it with some other very small pasta or even on couscous.
Summertime Orzo Salad with Roasted Tomato and Olives
Serves: 8 as a side dish
Preparation time: 1 hour, but you’re really only working for about 15 minutes unless you’re kinda slow….
- 1.5 pints cherry tomatoes
- 1 big zucchini or 2 small mediocre ones
- 3/4 cup briny black olives like kalmata
- 1 really large or 2 smaller cloves of garlic
- 3 green onions
- 1/4 cup olive oil + 2 tbsp or thereabouts
- zest of 1/2 lemon
- juice of 2 lemons
- 2 cups of uncooked orzo
- Big bunch of fresh herbs (mint, basil, etc)
- 3/4 cup feta cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
Ooh, I’m excited to start this. I love this salad so much. Alright, so preheat your oven to 325. We’re gonna go TOMATAH ROASTIN’!! While you’re at it, you might as well put a big pot of water on the stove to boil so we can cook the orzo. Slice your tomatoes in half, drizzle them with about 2 tbsp of olive oil and toss them around on a baking pan, sprinkle with some gorgeous kosher salt, and pop them in the oven. Ack, and I almost forgot to mention: flip them like beetles to make sure that they all have the cut side UP. This just prevents sticking, and all of the juices stay inside. Roasted tomatoes are unbelievably sweet and succulent, and you don’t want to miss out on any of that flavour.
Top and tail your zucchin and then slice it lengthwise into quarters. After the tomatoes have been slowly roasting for about 10 – 15 minutes, add the zucchini to the pan. I’m rather lazy and I don’t feel the need to toss these in oil, I just roll them around in the tomato pan to coat with some of the oil that is already there and then sprinkle them with salt.
Pull out the olives which we’re going to pit and chop up loosely. When choosing the olives, go for a nice firm salty briny variety, like a kalmata. Under no circumstances (ever) should you use those awful ‘olives’ from a can (EVER!!!!) which have no flavour or texture and are disconcertingly waxy when someone tricks you into eating one. Now you probably already know this, but the easiest way to pit an olive is to take a knife with a large heavy flat blade, lay this on top of the olive on it’s side, and press down firmly with the palm of your other hand. The pit normally will either pop out or the olive will split and you can pull it.
Give these a rough chop and into the bowl with them!
The garlic is going to be raw and therefore quite pungent, so you don’t want big chunks. You can use a rasp or a garlic press and add this to the olives. Also rasp or grate in the zest of about 1/2 of one lemon. You can juice both lemons, whicle you’re there. Pour in your olive oil (1/4 cup is just an estimation…I do about 4 Big Glugs) and toss this all around. You can add some pepper at this point, but try not to be a cowboy and don’t add salt until the very end.
Is your water boiling yet? I certainly hope so. Add 2 cups of orzo, give it a stir, and leave it to boil (uncovered) for about 8 minutes.
Very thinly slice your three green onions and throw ’em in the bowl.
When the orzo is cooked, drain it like any other pasta……
…..and this goes in the bowl as well. Give it a stir so things to coat in olive oil so the pasta doesn’t stick together.
Have you been paying attention to the time? That’s okay, I HAVE!!! Your tomatoes have been roasting away for about 35 minutes, and your zucchini has been in there for about 20. That’s good enough, take them out! You don’t want the zucchini to turn into mush, you just want it tender and juicy.
Slice each zucchini section vertically again so you have 8 pieces, and cut these into chunks about 1/4 inch thick and throw them into the orzo.
Finely chop up your herbs. I love using mint and basil, but I use whatever is in the garden or leftover in my fridge. Today this included a few sprigs of thyme and oregano from the garden as well as some lemon balm, mint and basil. Parsley is also great, and from time to time a bit of tarragon would not be amiss! Pile on the tomatoes and herbs.
When you stir, try to be gentle because the tender tomatoes are easy to turn into mush and you want them to keep their shape somewhat.
You might wonder why the container of feta was not in the original ingredient picture. Short answer: I wasn’t going to use it, but I really do like feta and I HAD feta, and feta is SO GOOD in this salad that I decided it would almost be a tragedy not to put some in so I did it. Yup. That’s just how I roll. So, when your salad has cooled almost to room temperature you can crumble in the feta.
Okay, NOW taste it – does it need salt? This will depend on how salty your olives and feta were. My olives were quite saline so I left the salad as it was.
That’s it! You’re done! Eat and enjoy!