This orzo salad makes enough to feed a crowd and is perfect for entertaining because it can be made ahead and served at room temperature. For a more substantial meal, add some chopped grilled chicken breasts. I’ve come to love orzo because it cooks so much faster than rice and has a softer, creamier texture.
I don’t know about you, but I’m always a bit stymied when asked to bring a dish to a party. My criteria when choosing a party recipe is that 1) it must be pretty and 2) it must taste as good as it looks. This is especially essential if it’s going to sit on a buffet table with other dishes.
This salad fits the bill on both. There is a lot of color and flavors going on in this dish – smoky grilled red, orange and yellow roasted bell peppers with a little char, green English peas, crunchy grilled red onion, bright green fresh herbs from the garden and juicy ripe red tomatoes combined with al dente orzo and dressed with a lively mustard vinaigrette.
If you like dishes that can be made ahead, this salad is even more delicious the next day after the flavors have had time to blend together. I would advise that if you do make it ahead, add the fresh herbs at the last minute to retain their color and freshness.
We took this salad to a get-together over the 4th of July weekend and it was a real hit. It tastes as good as it looks and is also very pretty on a buffet table. I recommend taking a copy or two of the recipe with you because you’re bound to be asked for the recipe.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma On the Grill, by Willie Cooper, serves 8 to 10
16 ounces (1 lb) dried orzo pasta
Kosher salt, to taste
1 cup fresh or frozen English peas
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 each red and white onion, cut into slices 1/2 inch thick
1 each red, orange and yellow bell pepper
1 cup of fresh basil, cut into a chiffonade, or minced fresh flat-leaf parsley, or a combination of both
12 small heirloom tomatoes, about 3 lb. total, cored and quartered or 15 or so grape tomatoes cut in half
Vinaigrette recipe below
Fresh basil leaves for garnish
Bring a large pot three-fourths full of salted water to a boil over high heat. Have a bowl of ice water ready. Add the orzo to the boiling water, stirring with a large spoon to prevent sticking. Return the water to a boil and cook the orzo until al dente (tender but firm to the bite), 10 to 12 minutes, adding the green peas during the last minute of cooking. You don’t want to overcook the peas. Drain in a colander. Pour the orzo and peas into the ice water and drain again. Transfer to a salad bowl. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil and stir to coat. Cover and refrigerate.
In the meantime, make the vinaigrette, recipe below. Combine the olive oil and grapeseed oil in a glass measuring cup. Whisk together the vinegar and mustard in a non-aluminum bowl. Add the oils in a slow steady stream, whisking constantly. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Prepare a hot fire in a grill. Brush and oil the grill grate and a vegetable-grilling basket. Brush the onions and bell peppers with olive oil. Arrange the onions in the grilling basket and place directly over high heat. Grill, turning once, until the onions are nicely charred on both sides, 8 to 10 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate. Grill the bell peppers directly over high heat, turning occasionally, until nicely charred on all sides. Transfer to a bowl, cover and let steam for 10 minutes. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, using your fingers, a paring knife or a fork, peel them and discard the skins. Seed and dice the peppers.
Remove the orzo and peas from the refrigerator and add the vinaigrette, peppers, onions, basil or parsley and chopped grilled chicken (if using) to the bowl and toss to coat. Add the tomatoes, then taste and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper. (I also added a couple of tablespoons of vinegar.) Can be served cold or at room temperature. Serves 8 to 10.
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1/2 cup grapeseed oil or other neutral tasting oil
2 tablespoon red wine vinegar, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon good Dijon mustard
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For a more substantial salad or with leftovers the next day, add some chopped grilled chicken breasts. As long as you have the grill on, throw some boneless chicken breasts on to add now or later.