Warmer weather is upon us, and that means light and refreshing salads are coming into full season. An orzo pasta salad with lemon dressing and fresh herbs is exactly what the season demands.
What is orzo pasta?
Orzo is a thin, super tiny oval cut pasta shape. In Italy it is considered a pastina, which means "little pasta."
Is orzo pasta or rice?
Oh it's definitely a pasta. It is made with semolina flour, like pasta, despite looking an awful lot like rice or risotto. Also, in case you are cooking for a gluten free crowd (or person), orzo is not gluten free.
How do you cook orzo pasta?
So there is couple ways to cook orzo. I am going to give you my personal favorite way to cook orzo pasta and also the other way. You can do either.
- Traditional boiling method. This is definitely the easier of the two methods, and it is what I do for this recipe because it allows the pasta to absorb the flavor of the lemon dressing immediately after cooking.
- In a skillet. So this method, is how I cook orzo for anything other than a salad. It is similar to cooking a rice or risotto, I suppose. You toast the orzo in some butter first, which gives it a nice nutty flavor. Then you add your liquid (I use stock), just enough that the pasta absorbs it and softens. It imparts a lovely flavor and is great when you don't want the orzo to absorb a dressing.
This salad is full of not just pasta but lots of veggies and fresh herbs as well. The light as air lemon dressing with herbs is simple and compliments all the raw and grilled vegetables you can put into this salad.
Here's what you'll need:
- Orzo pasta
- Vegetables. I like to use asparagus, green and yellow zucchini, fresh tomatoes and sun-dried tomatoes, crisp raw red peppers, shallots or red onion.
- Lemon. The zest and juice
- Olive oil
- Honey. This lends the perfect balance to the acidic lemons
- Fresh herbs. Great things to include would be basil, marjoram, chives, tarragon, oregano, thyme, parsley and even rosemary.
Tips for success
- Reserve some of the dressing and add to pasta immediately after draining. I drain the pasta really well, and while still hot I put the pasta into the serving bowl and toss it hot, with the dressing. This gives you maximum absorption of all the lemon and olive oil directly into the orzo pasta, while coating lightly with oil, keeping it from clumping up together. It creates the perfect pasta, in my opinion.
- Roast or grill some of the vegetables for a depth of flavor and leave some raw. The more the better. The vegetables I use are ever-changing, one time I may use carrots because they are looking gorgeous at the farmer's market, another I am all about the zucchini. I hate eggplant, but if you like it, grill some up and use that...I am sure it will be great.
- Cut the vegetables bigger than the orzo. While this is a recipe for orzo pasta salad, the pasta is really the compliment to the vegetables here, and you want to get a nice bite of vegetable.
- Go big on the herbs. This salad is full of herbs, and for real, use whatever you have. I grow herbs and I literally use all of them (green and purple basil, rosemary, marjoram, oregano, parsley and sage), except lavender, in huge amounts in this salad. I always add more than what looks normal to me, and it is f'ing awesome. Super fresh tasting and the lemon dressing and herbs together pack a gorgeous, fresh, acidic punch - which is why this is so hard to stop eating.
- pasta pot for boiling orzo
- large serving bowl
For the dressing
- 5 whole lemons
- 4 tablespoon avocado oil or vegetable oil basically something neutral in flavor
- 1 tablespoon of honey
- ½ cup olive oil
- 2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1 teaspoon of black pepper use less if you are not a huge fan of pepper like me
For the rest of the salad
- 3 cups fresh vegetables use your imagination
- 16 oz box of orzo pasta
- salt for the pasta water
- 1 cup fresh herbs use what you can and have available to you
- Cook pasta according to the package in salted water.
For the dressing
- While the pasta is cooking, zest three of the lemons into a large serving dish or bowl. Squeeze all the juice from all five lemons into the bowl along with the honey, salt and pepper and whisk together. While whisking, pour in both oils and whisk vigorously to combine. Pull out about ⅓ cup of the dressing to reserve for coating the pasta.
To complete the dish
- Drain the pasta really well, shake it around good in the colander, but do not rinse with cool water. Put the hot pasta into the large bowl with the reserved ⅓ cup of dressing and stir together thoroughly so all the orzo is coated and absorbing the lemon dressing. Set aside to cool to room temperature. While it cooling prepare your vegetables. I like to roast or grill ¾ of the vegetables and roughly chop into larger pieces. I chop the rest of the raw, on an angle but thin. Carrots and zucchini can be shaved with vegetable peeler, and I halved the green beans this time length and cross wise. YAnd again - use any vegetables you like and have!
- Then roughly chop the herbs all together. Don't finely chop them, you want a punch of flavor!
- When the pasta is room temperature, add the roasted and raw vegetables and the herbs and toss together. Pour the remaining dressing over and toss one final time.