Monday, July 2, 2012

Orzo Pasta Salad

It's inevitable. You get invited to a backyard barbecue or a potluck, and need to bring a salad or a side dish. You know that potato salad and cole slaw are covered. You're thinking pasta salad might be nice, but you don't want something with mayonnaise.

Ideally, you'd like something different enough so no one else will bring the same salad, but not so different that people will avoid it.

This recipe makes just about a quart of salad, but you can easily double the recipe - or more - if you need to feed a hoard of guests.

You can find marinated feta and olives in jars or on salad bars. If you can't find that particular mix, you can buy olives and feta cheese separately.

Cut the feta into cubes about the same size as the olives. No need to marinate them first - just add olives, feta, and a bit of olive oil to the salad.

For the spice mix, you can use your favorite Italian or Greek seasoning mix. If you don't have one, a teaspoon each of dried oregano, thyme, and marjoram will work well.

There's no added salt in this salad, since the pasta is cooked in salted water and the cheese and olives add their own saltiness. But of course, salt is always "to taste," so taste the salad after it's assembled, and add salt if you think it's needed.

I used tri-color orzo, but any type of orzo - or really, any small pasta shape - would be just fine.

Orzo Pasta Salad

1 cup dry orzo pasta, cooked in salted water
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon Greek or Italian spice mix
1 cup marinated feta and olives
1 tablespoon olive oil from marinated feta and olives
1 tomato, diced
1 pickling cucumber or 1/2 English cucumber, peeled and diced
1 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced
6 mild Greek pepperoncini, sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 green onion (scallion) thinly sliced
Wine vinegar, to taste

While the pasta is cooking, prep all your other ingredients.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and rinse it in cool water, then put it in a large bowl and immediately add the lemon juice and stir so the pasta absorbs some of the lemon flavor. Add all of the rest if the ingredients except the wine vinegar. Stir to combine. Taste for seasoning and add salt, if necessary. If you prefer a tarter salad, add some red wine vinegar. If the salad seems a little dry, add a splash of olive oil.

Refrigerate until chilled. Serve cold.

This salad can be made a day or two in advance.