I actively eschew the cold – if anyone was born to relish in the blissful summer, it was me. Sunkissed skin and bare toes. A swing or two in the hammock or a walk along the sandy shore. And dad firing up the grill next to the side porch, with the lot of us sitting on the steps (dogs included), sipping a cold beer waiting for the meat to finish up. I live for those days.
This menu is not only a celebration of those lazy summer evenings when we’d tuck into thick steaks seared on the grill, but also an ode to the perfect produce of the summer. Farmer’s market tomatoes, string beans, potatoes and greens all have a home in bright and glorious side dishes. Rosemary works as both a flavoring and a utensil. And the skill required to prepare this meal is minimal – feed a few or a dozen with little to no effort other than chopping a veg or two and flipping on the grill. And that’s not even including any delegation – get some mark to shuck your corn or snap your string beans and you’re living easy. Which is entirely what summer is all about.
Orzo is like a dependable friend – versatile, mixes well with others, but distinct and fun on its own. I’m an out and out fan. In lieu of the traditional radiatore pasta or bowties for a potluck stunner, why not outstanding orzo? This particular combination features peppery arugula, sweet tomatoes and salty mizithra cheese all gussied up with a light vinaigrette. It looks sunnier than Miss America in the Sahara desert.
Mizithra cheese is a rather fun addition – a hard sheep milk cheese made in Greece. It’s salty like feta, but drier and crumblier – perfect for a lively pasta salad. If you can’t find mizithra, you can certainly use ricotta salata or feta cheese. Also, try to use the best olive oil you can get your hands on – when you have a recipe with so few ingredients and little to no cooking, it helps to keep the flavors strong.
Orzo Salad with Arugula and Mizithra Cheese
1 lb. of orzo
2 heirloom tomatoes, diced
3 c. of arugula leaves, loosely chopped
1/2 c. of olive oil
6 oz. of mizithra cheese, crumbled
1/4 tsp. of salt
1/4 tsp. of pepper
4 tbs. of rice wine vinegar
3 tbs. of sliced green onion
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt heavily. Add the orzo to the boiling water and cook according to the package directions. Drain and cool with running water. Drain again well and add to a large mixing bowl. Toss the orzo with the tomatoes, arugula, olive oil, cheese, salt, rice wine vinegar, pepper and green onions. Chill for at least 20 minutes and then serve.
I don’t care how easy they say that they are to make, those rice blends at the supermarket are overrated. Dehydrated herbs and chicken flavor make up the taste profile, and you can’t be sure how long it’s all been sitting on the shelf. You can totally take control of your own destiny – make your own rice pilaf in the same amount of time with no fillers or preservatives.
This pilaf takes ordinary converted rice and boosts it with a bit of toasted orzo. The little pasta grains impart texture, nuttiness and a lovely color to the dish – you get depth of flavor with really no additional work. This recipe is a great, quick side for a weeknight dinner – while you prepare your main dish, you can have a pot of this simmering away on the back burner. Best of all, when it’s done, you can fluff with a fork and recover until the rest of the meal is finished. It’ll wait for you until you’re ready to go. Rice that’s patient? Who woulda thunk it?
Rice Pilaf with Toasted Orzo
2 c. of converted, parboiled rice (like Uncle Ben’s)
1/2 c. of orzo
1 tsp. of fresh oregano, chopped
1/4 tsp. of black pepper
2 tbs. of olive oil
2 tbs. of butter
4 c. of vegetable (or chicken stock)
In a medium pot, heat the olive oil to shimmering. Add the butter and the orzo to the hot pan, continuously stirring to brown the orzo but not burn it. Once the orzo is toasty brown, add the rice, pepper and oregano. Stir to combine and add the chicken broth. Let the mixture come to a boil, then cover the pot and lower the heat to low.
Cook pilaf until all water is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Uncover rice and fluff with a fork. Serve.