Sunday, September 11, 2011

Orzo and the art of recipe sourcing.

Tri-Colore Orzo, revealed. © Ryan Schierling
Attribution. Have you ever wondered where that old family recipe actually came from? Curious if it is truly some anomaly of creative deliciousness, or if it actually made it into the family recipe box via a neighbor at a potluck who never mentioned that they got it from a recipe book or magazine? Even more curious, what might that original recipe have instructed? Were changes made from the original?

Peruse the comments and ratings on any online recipe site and it's clear that even on the first try somebody will inevitably substitute an ingredient or two, easily half the time. I always find this a bit disconcerting. Not that the person showed originality, used what they had on hand and made it their own – no, that is quite the point of the creative process in the kitchen most days. What is strange sometimes is that in the process they may have entirely missed the point of the flavor combination that makes the recipe the sparkly star it is reported to be in the first place. Sometimes I think a recipe really deserves to be tried and tasted as instructed and judged on its intended merits.

It is easy to understand, though, how the original attribution can get lost in time. A good basic recipe becomes a "foundation recipe" spawning a multitude of variations and interpretations. Sometimes, though, a recipe is golden just exactly as written.

What got me thinking about this? A wonderful orzo pasta salad recipe by chef Giada De Laurentiis. It became a favorite at our house after a gathering a few years ago at the home of our friends Megan and Ross. I haven't had the honor of eating Megan's cooking nearly often enough, but from what I know she is an adventurous cook with a discerning eye for all things tasty. It's not just an uncanny knack for finding a good recipe, either, I actually think there is a gift to executing a new recipe, as well. It requires taking "season to taste" to heart and a certain confidence in the fundamentals.

But I digress... after about my third helping of this salad, I had to ask Megan for the recipe. She told me it was a Giada De Laurentiis recipe called Tri-Colore Orzo and I could look it up online. Here's where I have to give a real hand to both of these fine ladies. Giada for creating a salad that is easy, beautiful and awesome – and Megan for making this salad as the recipe instructed with no substitutions or fiddly exceptions. Straight up delicious.

Now, this is one salad that won't win any awards for being budget conscious – it adds up when you're out buying baby arugula, sweet dried cherries and pine nuts – but it is totally worth it. It's a wonderful mouthful of sweet fruit and spicy greens and salty ricotta salata all dressed in extra virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice.

I still make this per the recipe. I'm a little loose with the measurements, but a few more pine nuts or an extra handful of arugula really won't change the overall flavor profile. The one and only time I made a major change was for a friend with a wheat allergy who couldn't eat pasta. In that case I substituted cooked long-grain white rice for the orzo pasta for a dish that was just as pretty and equally flavorful.

One of the best discoveries about this salad is that it also keeps exceptionally well in the fridge. With a tipple of olive oil to freshen it up in the morning, it makes a charming lunch item that will keep your taste buds bustling with happiness all week long.

Tri-Colore Orzo
(Giada De Laurentiis, Everyday Italian – via

1 pound orzo pasta
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1/4 cup
2 cups fresh arugula (about 3 ounces)
3/4 cup crumbled ricotta salata cheese (or feta cheese)
1/2 cup dried cherries
12 fresh basil leaves, torn
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta and put the pasta on a large cookie sheet. Drizzle the pasta with 3 tablespoons olive oil, toss, spread out, and set aside to cool.

Once the orzo is cool, transfer to a large serving bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and toss gently to combine. Serve.

(Now, of course, I am curious.... what was Giada's inspiration?)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for reminding me of this great salad! I'm going to take it to a friend's rehearsal dinner picnic this week.


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