Tuesday, June 30, 2020

4th of July Picnic or Harvest Meal? Orzo Pasta Salad

Fourth of July gatherings may be few and far between in 2020, thanks to an unwelcome guest named Covid.

But even if you're just celebrating with family, I have an idea for a pasta salad with a little different twist that's sure to create "fireworks" in your mouth. OK, the fireworks will come from flavor - not heat - but you know what I mean!
Jill, Eric, Kinley and Brooke were here last weekend for harvest. I had some excellent help decorating and filling the bags for suppers.
We had a couple of suppertime picnics in the field, but our noon meals were at the dining room table since Randy was in fields close to the house.
When I saw the recipe for Orzo Pasta Salad, I thought it would be a good salad to serve with the Greek Meatballs recipe Jill had shared with me earlier. (By the way, I made extra meatballs and used them for meatball subs for supper in the field last evening: Planned leftovers.)
If your garden is already producing cucumbers, tomatoes and fresh herbs, you're in luck. And if your zucchini is as prolific as Randy's plants, you could add a little zucchini to the veggie mix - just for a new way to use up a little bit of that garden crop that seems to multiply behind your back. Or visit your grocery store produce section or the local farmer's market for your fresh veggies.

Instead of the usual pasta twist or elbow, the base of this salad is orzo pasta. With add-ins like toasted almonds and feta cheese and a tangy olive oil-lemon dressing, it's a satisfying summer salad to add to your table - whether it's 4th of July, a harvest meal or just a regular old day.
The recipe may look complicated, but you can do much of it ahead of time. And we're enjoying the leftovers, too, so if you don't use it in one sitting, that's OK. However, you may need to add a little drizzle of olive oil and another squeeze of lemon since pasta has the tendency to absorb liquid as it sits.

If you try it, let me know what you think!
Orzo Pasta Salad
Adapted from Carlsbad Cravings blog

16 oz. uncooked orzo pasta
 2 tablespoon olive oil 
1 tablespoon unsalted butter 
4 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth 
1/4 cup lemon juice 
1/4 tsp EACH salt and pepper 
1/2 onion, chopped
2 ears grilled corn, cut off the cob (grilling optional but recommended) 
1 English cucumber, sliced and cubed
2 cups (1 pint) cherry tomatoes, halved 
1 15 oz. can garbanzo (chickpeas) beans, drained and rinsed 
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, halved 
1/2 cup sliced almonds 
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped 
1/2 cup feta cheese
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil 
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 
1 tablespoon lemon juice 
1 TBS EACH fresh dill parsley and oregano OR 1 tsp EACH dried 
1 teaspoon sugar 
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard 
1/2 tsp EACH garlic powder, salt 
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Make dressing, whisking together all the ingredients in a small bowl or by adding to a lidded jar and shaking. Refrigerate until ready to use.

In a large nonstick skillet, melt butter with olive oil over medium-low heat. Once melted, increase heat to medium-high and add orzo and onions. Sauté for 3-5 minutes, until onions are soft. Stir in chicken broth, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Simmer until orzo is al dente, 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently the last couple minutes of cooking so it doesn’t burn. Transfer to a large bowl to cool in the refrigerator while you finish chopping your veggies. Add all of the salad ingredients to the orzo followed by the dressing. Toss to coat. Taste and season with additional lemon juice or salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Make-Ahead Notes:
  • Vegetables:  Can be chopped 24 hours in advance and stored in separate airtight containers in the refrigerator or added directly to the orzo pasta without the dressing.
  • Orzo:  Can be made 48 hours in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  • Dressing:  Can be made 72 hours in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
If you want to make it ahead, toss all the salad ingredients together with only HALF of the dressing. Cover and refrigerate.  When you are ready to serve, toss with desired amount of remaining dressing.

If you use all of the dressing initially, your pasta may soak up all the dressing and will taste dry. You can "revive" it with a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.
  • My local grocery store doesn't carry many fresh herbs, and we don't grow them in our garden. I substituted a sprinkle of dried basil leaves. (If you use dried, DON'T use 1/2 cup. I really just used a sprinkle. There's a lot of flavor in the other ingredients.) I know the fresh would be better, but this was tasty, too! At this time of year, perhaps you can find some at a farmer's market or ask a generous gardening neighbor.
  • I also can't get English cucumbers here, and our garden cucumbers aren't ready yet. Since the cucumber I had bought had large seeds, I scraped out the seed portion and chopped up the rest.
  • I also didn't have corn on the cob, so I just used frozen corn. It didn't caramelize like fresh corn would, but it still added another texture to the finished dish. 
  • I did not use Kalamata olives (or any other olives). I served olives on the side for Randy and Eric. (There aren't many things I don't like, but olives are one of the few.)
  • If your garden zucchini are as prolific as ours, you could also add some chopped fresh zucchini to the veggies used in the directions. 
  • The original recipe called for sliced almonds. I only had slivered, so we browned them in a little butter until they were toasty. I also served the almonds on the side for the non-nut eaters in the group. 
  • You can use water and some chicken bouillon granules instead of the canned or boxed chicken broth. That's what I usually use. 
  • There are lots of additional recipe notes on Carlsbad Cravings, if you're interested in even more details from the recipe originator: https://carlsbadcravings.com/orzo-pasta-salad/  
 Here's another pasta salad that we enjoy for harvest: https://kimscountyline.blogspot.com/2011/08/macimum-taste.html  (Sorry the photo's not better. This was early in my blogging days.)


  1. Wow!The Orzo Pasta salad uses cherry tomatoes, just what I needed. Thanks Kim!

    1. Good! I am anxiously awaiting the ripening of our tomatoes. We had trouble finding cherry tomatoes to plant, so they are a little behind.

  2. So wonderful that your family could visit and I would love to join you for your suppertime picnics in the field. A tad cool here for salad but I did google to see what orzo was here, so in a few months time........
    Happy 4th of July. May it be a day of peace, goodwill and social distancing.

    1. I just hope we're done with harvest by then. That would be a celebration in itself!