Ahhhhhh summertime…A time for relaxing on the patio, warm breezes, cocktails by the fire pit (or beach preferably) and for eating this salad. Imagine creamy orzo pasta tossed with the seasons best tomatoes, crunchy red onion, lush mozzarella, sweet roasted peppers all tossed with a citrusy vinaigrette made from lemon juice, lemon oil, basil and spinach. Are you there? Have you transported to summer? Ok, great. I’m soooo ready for summer. These last few weeks have been crazy in the best way. I celebrated one of my dearest friends at her bachelorette party, made countless veggie platters and beet hummus for various school functions and get togethers, granola for teachers for the last day of school and lastly celebrated my husbands birthday with more food and wine! I’m exhausted and it’s not even July yet! I wanted to create a recipe that would be easy and impressive enough to take to picnics during the hot days of summer. There’s really nothing easier and comforting than a light pasta salad. You can customize this by adding whatever fresh summer veggies you like, or throw in grilled chicken, shrimp or keep it vegetarian as I’ve done here. It’s light, yet filling and its bright and lemony flavor will have your tastebuds buzzing! Let’s do this summer 2016 (fist pumps all around)!
Serves 8-10 as a side dish (or 4-6 as a main dish)
1 1/2 cups uncooked orzo (or any pasta you like, even gluten free options would work well here)
4 cups water or veggie broth
3 cups cherry tomatoes cut in half
1 yellow or red bell pepper roasted in the oven for 20 minutes at 400F or you can use store bought roasted or even purchase about 1 cup from your supermarket’s salad bar)
1/4 red onion sliced thin
1 12 oz. container of mozzarella balls (cut in half)
2 cups fresh basil
1 cup spinach
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 T dijon mustard
1 clove garlic
3-5 drops lemon oil (if you don’t have this you can sub 1 T grated lemon zest)
Juice of half a lemon
1/2 T balsamic vinegar
1 t salt
Cook orzo in a pan with broth or water according to package directions. Do not overcook. You still want the grains to be al dente (or to still have a little bite to it).
While the pasta is cooking, make the basil vinaigrette in a food processor or blender. Combine all the ingredients and process until smooth. Chop the tomatoes, red onion, roasted bell pepper and mozzarella.
Drain the orzo and put inside a large bowl to cool for 10-15 minutes. You can toss it with a little olive oil to prevent the pasta from sticking together. Once it has cooled, you can toss with the tomatoes, red onion, roasted bell pepper, mozzarella and the basil vinaigrette. If the pasta mixture seems dry, you can add a little bit of water or olive oil to loosen things up. You may need to add extra salt to taste.
This is best served at room temp and even better if you let the flavors meld together overnight.
Serve alongside grilled anything and wine. Lots of wine….