Orzo Spinach Salad: A beautiful summery dish for a glorious, sunshiney day. But this salad works year round, and I have to say, that's one of the best things about it -- in addition to the fact that it's hearty, quick and easy, beautiful, and delicious, of course. You toss just-cooked, olive-oil-drizzled, warm orzo pasta together with chopped fresh spinach, and come out with a flavorful meal that's great year round, and chockfull of health. Plus it's a fantastic what-the-heck-should-I-make-for-dinner option when your cupboards are running a little on the bare side, as you can keep a box of orzo in the cupboard, and a jar of olives, or artichoke hearts, or roasted red peppers, or chickpeas or cannellini beans, so you can make this salad in a flash if you just add fresh spinach.
And if you've been lucky enough to grab fresh tomatoes, avocado, cucumber, or zucchini, so much fancier will your salad be. Not to mention that if spinach is a four letter word in your house, the more you disguise it and dress it up with other goodies, the less likely you are to get complaints. (I think.)
I gotta say though, this dish is so hearty that calling it salad is almost an insult. Well, not quite, because salad is our friend, though Homer Simpson would disagree vehemently. ("You don't make friends with salad." D'oh.) Well, I'd argue you can make friends with this salad, as the fresh chopped spinach is nudged into the pasta, dressed nicely, and then piled with whatever fresh (or jarred or canned) goodies you've got on hand to make it sing. But feel free to call it a pasta dish if that marketing works better for you.
Onward to the salad! (I mean pasta!) My version was inspired by Helen Newell's "Fast & Fresh" recipe from the lovely Sunset magazine. Original recipe is here. And of course, feel free to adjust my version to your liking as well. Everyone contributes, everyone wins!
-- 1 cup (dry/uncooked) orzo pasta
-- 2 cups fresh spinach (or a couple of big handfuls), chopped
-- handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped (optional); or whatever fresh herbs you have on hand, if you've got 'em: Italian parsley, chives, even some fresh mint (but go easy on the mint so it doesn't overpower the salad)
-- additions, depending on what you've got and what you like: halved cherry tomatoes, sliced roasted or fresh red bell peppers, diced cucumber or avocado, diced zucchini, shredded carrot, marinated artichoke hearts, chopped marinated sundried tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, kalamata olives, chickpeas, cannellini beans... get creative!
-- 1 clove garlic or 1 small shallot, minced
-- 1 generous teaspoon Dijon mustard
-- 2 tablespoons white wine or champagne vinegar
-- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
-- salt and pepper
Cook orzo according to the directions on the package. While that cooks, prep the other ingredients you're using and toss them into a big bowl.
To make the vinaigrette: combine the garlic/shallot, mustard and vinegar, and whisk to blend. Then keep whisking as you drizzle in the olive oil. Add a little salt and pepper, and then taste. Adjust as needed.
When the orzo is cooked, drain and toss with a little extra virgin olive oil, then add to the bowl of other ingredients. Drizzle with the vinaigrette, and toss it all together gently. By the by, you may not need all the dressing depending on your preferences and how much other stuff you add. So just drizzle and gently toss until you like the looks/taste of it, and if you've got dressing leftover, stick it in the fridge for tomorrow's salad, or for a nice vegetable dip for your afternoon crudite snack. (You'll have to re-whisk it for a sec, but then it's ready to go.) Easy, no? And so deliciously health righteous.