Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Meal Fit for One (or Many)

Hello! As you already know, our friend Kim went to Turkey for the Easter holiday. She asked me if I could do the honor of contributing to this blog as a guest writer while she was in Turkey, to which I said “oh my gosh, yes” in a heartbeat. Writing and eating - two things I love to do, so why not? I, too, had a long weekend out of town (to Chicago, which doesn’t even compare to Turkey’s boreks, magnificent mosques, bazaars, fortune telling rabbits, and I could go on and on) and so am a little late in posting as Kim has gone and come back from Turkey, but I figure better late than never, right?
A few weeks ago, after a rough couple of days at work and my desire to treat myself to a nice meal, but not wanting to go through the effort of making an elaborate meal or dining out (after all, we are in a recession), I asked Kim F. (not to be confused with my other dear friend, Kim K.), who just happens to be a culinary expert, if she had any ideas (note - easy ideas) on how I could combine some orzo I had sitting in my pantry and my craving for fresh mozzarella cheese and tomatoes. I was at a loss when it came to thinking of ideas for a dressing. What she suggested was fantastic. What I am calling, Caprese Inspired Orzo Salad, was not only easy and quick to make but tasted and looked great, and made great leftovers. What else could I ask for? Well, a lot, like those Easter Eggs from Kardinal Chocolate of Copenhagen, Chocolate Mascarpone Brownies, being a stowaway to Turkey, and the list goes on. But seriously, if I can do this without messing up at all, so can you. Trust me.

Caprese Inspired Orzo Salad
Recipe adapted from Kim F.
3/4 cup orzo
1/2 cup (or more) grape tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 cup fresh whole mozzarella, cut to the same size as the halved grape tomatoes
Handful of basil chiffonade*

Dressing Ingredients
5 tablespoons of lemon juice (substitutes: champagne, white wine vinegar, sherry vinegar)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 tsp very finely chopped onion or shallot
salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring a pot of water to boil. Generously season the water with salt. Put the orzo in the water and cook according to package directions. It should take no more than 6-7 minutes. Drain and place into a bowl.
2. While the orzo is cooking, combine the tomatoes and mozzarella, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
3. To make the dressing, mix all the dressing ingredients in a bowl with a whisk. Add salt/pepper liberally, to make sure that the vinaigrette is seasoned well for the salad.
4. To a serving bowl, add the tomato and mozzarella mixture and basil chiffonade. Re-whisk the dressing and pour about 3/4 of the dressing into the bowl. Toss it to coat. There shouldn’t be any excess of liquid from in the bowl. If the salad looks or tastes dry, add more dressing to taste. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

*Before beginning this recipe, be sure to wash the basil and set it aside to dry in a paper napkin. The basil will need a few minutes to dry out. While the orzo is cooking, take the basil leaves (making sure they are mostly dry), stack them up, and roll it into a tight roll. Slice the roll very thinly cross wise so that you have thin ribbons of basil.

I had this salad with French bread and EVOO (as Rachel Ray would say) seasoned with salt/pepper, and a glass (or many) of chardonnay. Because this meal was so simple, it’s great if you’re cooking just for one (or many). It’s a great meal to entertain with as well if you’re short on preparation time or dining with vegetarians, like myself. I had the pasta, served cold, the next day – just had to add some more salt. The leftover French bread, tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella, make a great caprese sandwich, drizzled with balsamic vinegar and seasoned with salt/pepper, for later in the week as well. Enjoy!

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