This lovely, light lemon orzo pasta salad recipe (and video tutorial) - from the folks at digincolorado.com and Johnson and Whales University - takes advantage of early spring vegetables such as asparagus, peas and fava beans. The key is to quickly blanch the veggies in boiling salted water and and then shock them in a bowl of ice water to retain the brilliant bright green color and snap of freshness. Garden-fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley, mint and just-squeezed lemon add a refreshing touch to the vinaigrette. If you toss all the ingredients together while the pasta is still warm, the orzo will absorb some of the dressing for a nice, rich flavor when chilled.
Save Time and Make the Veggies and Dressing Ahead
To save time, you can prepare the veggies and the salad dressing ahead of time. Farmers-market or garden-fresh veggies have loads of wonderful color and nutritious vitamins that can be captured by quickly blanching them as soon as possible once you get them home. Blanch, shock and store the veggies in the fridge until you're ready to make the pasta. The vinaigrette dressing can also be made ahead. Leave the dressing out - at room temperature - to allow the flavors to meld. (You want to avoid putting olive oil-based dressings in the fridge.) Give the vinaigrette a good blending with a whisk just before adding to the salad.
Always Cook the Pasta Fresh
The orzo should always be made fresh right before you need it. Pasta that sits and cools can quickly become rubbery and sticky. To avoid this, cook the pasta fresh in plenty of salted boiling water. Then drain and rinse well under cool, running water. This final rinse helps to remove any lingering starch from the pasta.
In a hot pasta dish, it is this pasta starch that helps thicken and smooth the sauce. In fact, I always recommend reserving a cup or so of the pasta cooking liquid to help smooth out the hot sauce (my secret ingredient!!).
For a cold pasta salad, however, you want to drain and rinse the pasta well, drain it again, then add the dressing and mix well. The still-warm warm orzo pasta will absorb the flavors in the dressing as it cools. You'll want to make a little extra dressing so you have a bit in reserve to add to the salad just before serving if it seems a bit dry.
See also: How to chop fresh herbs
Does cooking seem like Greek to you?
Want to learn more about blanching, shocking, chiffonades, zesting, citrus oils, adding acid, why you add salt when mincing garlic and other culinary curiosities? Check out my review for Smart Kitchen, an online cooking school where you can learn at your own pace from the comfort of home.
Lemon Orzo Pasta Salad with Peas, Fava Beans and Asparagus
This lemony orzo pasta salad is a bright, light and refreshing side dish or vegetarian meal that takes full advantage of early spring veggies such as asparagus, peas and fava beans. Fresh parsley and mint add a lovely touch to the lemon-herb vinaigrette. A touch of top-quality Parmesan cheese adds a zip that finishes the dish beautifully. Great for a light lunch or to take to a pot luck dinner.
- 1 lb. box of orzo pasta
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 cup fresh peas
- 1 cup asparagus, cut into bite size pieces
- 1 cup fava beans
- 1 lemon, for zest and juice
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, chiffonade cut
- 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, chiffonade cut
- salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese for garnish
- Bring 1 large pot of water to boil for pasta and a smaller pot of water for blanching.
- Add ice to a large bowl of water for shocking and set aside.
- Add the fresh veggies to the smaller pot of boiling, salted water and cook a minute or two until bright green but still crisp. Use a slotted spoon to remove the veggies and immediately transfer them to the ice bath. Drain and set aside.
To make the vinaigrette
- Finely mince 2 gloves of garlic with a dash of salt and add to a small bowl.
- Add the chopped mint and parsley chiffonade (to make the chiffonade, wash and dry the basil and mint leaves, roll them up, and cut them into fine shreds with a very sharp knife.)
- Add the zest of the lemon, being careful not to include the white pith which can be bitter.
- Cut and squeeze the juice directly into the dressing. Use your fingers or a fork to catch any seeds. Add the olive oil, season with salt and pepper and blend well to emulsify.
Cook the Pasta al Dente
- When the pasta water is at a roiling boil, add a heaping tablespoon of salt and drop in the pasta. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Cook according to package directions until al dente (still firm).
- Using a small-holed colander, drain the orzo and rinse well under cool running water to remove any starch. Drain well.
Combine the Salad Ingredients
- Add the cooked pasta, the blanched veggies and the vinaigrette and toss together well. The warm pasta will absorb some of the dressing as it cools adding another layer of flavor to this dish.
- Garnish with plenty of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. If serving later, cover with plastic wrap, pushing the wrap down over the pasta. Give the salad a quick stir before serving.
Blanching the veggies helps them keep their bright green color while retaining a crisp snap. You may want to cook the veggies in batches to control the timing for each vegetable. Add cold cooked chicken, turkey or shrimp for a nice change of pace. The lemon in place of vinegar keeps the dressing light and refreshing - perfect for spring or summer meals.
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