Festive Orzo Party Salad
The finest pastas in Italy come from Abruzzo, about 350 miles east of Rome on the Adriatic Sea. The salty Adriatic breezes and water from pure mountain springs make this the perfect location for pasta making. In the town of Pianella, artisan pasta maker Gianluigi Peduzzi maintains the proud Rustichella d'Abruzzo tradition started by his grandfather. Rustichella d'Abruzzo pastas are made with stone-ground wheat, extruded through 19th century bronze dies and air dried for 56 hours under climate controlled conditions. This process sets them far above commercially made pastas found in grocery stores that are dried quickly and under extreme heat, thus killing the flavor of the pasta. But don't take my word for it, buy a bag of Rustichella d'Abruzzo Orzo Pasta and some other brand and cook them in two separate batches. Make this salad and taste the difference for yourself.
Each bag contains approximately 1.1 pounds (500 gr.) of durum wheat semolina Orzo by Rustichella d'Abruzzo imported from Italy and costs about $8 per bag. No, it's not inexpensive, but you'll think you're in Italy at a fine restaurant after taking the first bite. This salad is so easy, but so elegant!
1 1 package Rustichella d'Abruzzo Orzo Pasta, cooked and cooled
1/4 cup pine nuts - toasted
1 bunch fresh arugula, watercress or baby spinach, rough chop
1/2 cup dried organic cranberries or sour cherries
1 cup flat Italian parsley, finely chopped
2 cups whole cherry tomatoes
1 cup organic celery, finely sliced
2 tablespoons capers
lemon peel, grated from juicing lemon (just the yellow skin)
1/4 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup organic extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 tablespoon agave nectar
large mixing bowl
measuring cups and spoons
pasta pot with drainer and lid
rasp grater for lemon peel
The Orzo Pasta
Note: Cook the pasta the day before creating the Festive Orzo Party Salad. This insures the pasta is cold and ready for the salad.
Cook one package of Rustichella d'Abruzzo Orzo pasta in 4 to 5 quarts of boiling water with 1 tablespoon of sea salt.
Rustichella d'Abruzzo Orzo Pasta Before and After Cooking
Cooking time for orzo pasta is 6 to 8 minutes. At about 5 minutes, spoon out one of the orzo pieces and taste test it. You want it to be "al dente"—still firm when bitten. So keep tasting it and drain immediately when the desired texture is felt. Under cooking the pasta is okay because the heat in the pan after draining will still be hot enough to finish the cooking process. So under cook this tiny pasta!
Stir the pasta occasionally to ensure even cooking and to avoid any from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Drain quickly and Do Not Rinse.
Add 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and fold throughout the orzo pasta with a large silicone spatula to coat every pasta piece. Cover the pot and set aside to cool.
Once cooled, refrigerate in a tightly covered covered dish until completely cold.
Combine the lemon juice, sea salt, black pepper and agave nectar in a Pyrex measuring cup.
Drizzle the olive oil into the lemon juice while constantly whisking.
Raw Pine Nuts
The Pine Nuts
In a heavy bottomed fry pan over medium heat, dry roast the pine nuts.
Cook until all the pine nuts are lightly golden. These nuts will burn easily, so keep them in constant motion by shaking the contents or stirring.
NOTE: Do NOT leave this and try to do something else… can't tell you how many times I've burnt a whole pan full and pine nuts are very expensive.
The Dried Cranberries or Sour Cherries
Dried fruit can be a bit chewy, so I like to presoak the dried cranberries for about 10 minutes in boiled water.
Drain and set aside.
Arugula from Trader Joe's
Clean the arugula, spinach or watercress, spin the water off in a salad spinner and set aside.
Roughly chop the parsley.
Thinly slice the celery.
The Tomatoes and Capers
Measure out the tomatoes and capers and set aside.
Assemble the Festive Orzo Pasta Salad
Assemble the Festive Orzo Pasta Salad just before serving!
Use a large bowl and add the orzo pasta, chopped and sliced greens, pine nuts, cranberries, tomatoes, and capers and fold the ingredients gently together.
Pour the dressing over the top and continue folding till all the ingredients are coated evenly.
I've taken this salad to many gatherings and there is NEVER any leftovers! A beautiful tall glass trifle bowl with a glass stem makes for an elegant presentation.