The Perfect Summer Side

Ah, summer. The season of picnics and cookouts, graduation parties and camping trips. You know what all of those things have in common? Food! Whatever’s happening, people need to eat, right? And most of the time, there will be pasta salad on the table. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s drowning in mayo and isn’t so good. Sometimes, much to Andy’s dismay, it’s the only side dish at the party.

Unless, of course, this pasta salad is available. It’s so good that Andy (who says pasta salad makes him gag), eats more than just a polite serving. He goes back for seconds and thirds. And then he raids the fridge for the leftovers.

The first time I tried it, I was amazed  that something so simple could be so delicious. It’s just orzo, lemon juice, olive oil, fresh basil, feta and dried cherries, with some greens thrown in for good measure. My friend Bethany made it for a get-together, and wow. It was summer loving at first bite for me. Clearly, this was something special.

Like any good summer salad, this one is easy to throw together. It tastes good straight out of the fridge or at room temperature. I can’t decide if it’s the basil, the cherries or the feta that puts this one over the top. Maybe it’s all three together, in a trifecta of awesomeness.

I didn’t have arugula on hand, but I’d gotten a bunch of Swiss chard in our CSA the week beforehand, so I figured that would work out OK. I ended up sauteing the stems and then the chopped leaves, since I think they’re a little tough and chewy raw. It didn’t take that much longer, and it gave me something to do while I waited for the pasta to cool. Good thing too. Otherwise I might have eaten all of the feta before it made its way into the salad. 😉

I almost skipped the pine nuts because they were ridiculously expensive in my grocery store but decided to splurge when I found a slightly cheaper package of them. I used some of my awesome Italian olive oil from Andy’s brother, Dan, and I think it really made a difference in the end result. So if you have the good stuff, this is the time to break it out. And then you may want to keep it out, since you’ll probably need to make a second batch to take to a picnic or something.

OrzoPastaSalad

Tri-Color Pasta Salad

1 lb. uncooked orzo pasta
3 tablespoons plus up to 1/4 cup of olive oil, divided
2 cups chopped greens (arugula, spinach or Swiss chard)
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup dried cherries
12 fresh basil leaves, torn
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1 1/2 teaspoon salt (I didn’t measure this.) 
1 teaspoon pepper  (Again, I didn’t measure.)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, then drain the pasta and quickly rinse it with cool water.

Spread the cooked pasta in an even layer on a large rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with three tablespoons of olive oil. Set aside to cool.

While the pasta cools, prepare the rest of the salad.

If you’re using Swiss chard, separate the stems from the leaves and chop the stems into 1/4″ pieces. Add some olive oil to a large skillet and saute the stems until they are crisp tender. Chop the leaves into bite-sized / manageable pieces and then add them to the skillet when the stems are almost done. Take the pan off the heat.

If you’re using spinach or arugula, simply wash the leaves and tear them into bite-sized pieces.

Place the greens in a large bowl and then add the pine nuts, cherries, basil and feta cheese. Scrape the orzo into the bowl and add the lemon juice. Gently mixed until everything is well-distributed. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil (up to 1/4 cup) until the pasta is well-coated and doesn’t appear dry. Mix everything one more time, then season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve cold or at room temperature. Hide store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

From my friend Bethany

Click here for a printable version.

Great Garlic Soup!

Let’s get something out of the way, shall we? This soup is not going to win you any points at the office. You’ll be that person. The one smelling up the entire lunchroom/kitchen with your leftovers. And depending on how your coworkers feel, they’ll either hate you for stinking up the place, or they’ll hate you for not bringing enough to share.

I mean, 44 cloves of garlic? There’s no way anyone’s going to be ambivalent about this one.

We picked up a cold bug somewhere over the holidays, so soup sounded especially good. And since I’d made chicken noodle soup a few days earlier, I was looking for something different. This soup seemed to fit the bill: easy enough for a weeknight, soothing for a sore throat and fairly healthy. (After all, isn’t garlic supposed to be good for just about everything?) 

I was striking out when it came to a vegetable side to serve alongside the soup though. I didn’t feel like making a salad, and, let’s be honest: the few jalapenos in those biscuits don’t come anywhere close to the recommended daily amount of vegetables. Then I realized that I could wilt some spinach down into the soup and call it a one-pot meal. Ta-da!

To give us a head-start on dinner, Andy started roasting the garlic when he got home. It was done before I walked in the door, which meant that all I had to do was chop some onions and get things simmering away. I pulled some biscuits out of the freezer, and we were set.

Andy gave this one a five, and since my Grandma sent us home with LOADS of home-grown garlic, I think it’s safe to say that this will be making another appearance in our kitchen. I’m sure my coworkers will be thrilled. 😉

GarlicSoup

44-Clove Garlic Soup 

26 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
2 tablespoons of olive oil
18 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 1/4 cups of diced onion
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
3 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 heavy cream
2 handfuls (about 4 cups) fresh spinach, coarsely chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
lemon wedges, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350. Place the 26 unpeeled garlic cloves in a small glass baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and then stir to combine. Tightly cover the dish with foil and bake for 45 minutes, or until the garlic cloves are soft. Remove from the oven.

When the garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze the cloves from their skins and discard the skins. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a stockpot or large saucepan. When the butter has melted, add the onions and thyme to the pan. Saute until the onions are tender and mostly translucent, with a little bit of brown on their edges. Add the roasted garlic cloves and the 18 cloves of peeled, fresh garlic. Saute for about 3 more minutes.

Add the chicken stock to the pan, scrapping up all of the browned pieces from the bottom of the pan. Cover the pan and bring the stock to a simmer over medium heat. Allow the mixture to simmer until garlic is tender, about 20 minutes.

When the fresh garlic is very tender, puree the soup with an immersion blender. When the soup is smooth, stir in the cream and then add the spinach. Cook over medium-low heat for a few more minutes, until the spinach wilts. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve the soup, sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese in the bottom of the soup bowl and ladle the soup on top of the cheese. Squeeze a lemon wedge over the top of the soup. Serve immediately.

Barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen, originally from the February 1999 issue of Bon Appetit

Click here for a printable version.