Lemon Orzo Pasta Salad

Growing up in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago, I didn’t really go out on picnics. After all, I lived near a huge shopping mall, and amidst many strip malls, box stores, and chain restaurants. The closest thing to a picnic opportunity was going to outdoor concert venues: 4th of July fireworks set to the 1812 overture at Poplar Creek, jazz concerts at Ravinia, alternative rock festivals watched from lawn seats or in Grant Park. When I think about it, the abundance of concert venues that offer lawn seating in Illinois is kind of odd; at least I haven’t located as many out here in Washington.

Last month, we packed up a picnic to take with us to a concert from the National at Marymoor Park. Although I don’t know if that venue is the best place for that band as they could probably benefit from a closed in, dark, and more intimate setting, it was still a great concert and I loved revisiting those lawn seat concert memories, but this time during a cool, slightly misty early fall evening. We ate leftover summer rolls, cold chicken fingers, and this lemon orzo salad.

Admittedly, I wasn’t enthusiastic about this pasta salad at first since it contained some of my least favorite vegetables– tons of summer squash and long, flat Roma beans. I also threw in there sliced sweet onion, a pint of sungold cherry tomatoes, and plenty of fresh basil. Since this pasta salad would serve a dual purpose as part of our picnic at a homebrew/knitting get together earlier in the day, I was definitely enthusiastic about this pasta salad’s ability to spread out the CSA love, using such a huge portion of vegetables we already had in over-abundance in order to feed friends.

But all that changed once I tasted this orzo salad with its crisp yet cool vegetables, the bright and acidic flavors from lemon zest and lemon juice, the burst of sweet and juicy cherry tomatoes. And who can’t get excited when greeted by such lovely, summery colors of yellow, cream, green, and orange? I think I’ve found a new picnic staple with this light, refreshing, yet hearty orzo salad.

Note: For added flavor, cook the orzo in vegetable stock instead of water. Make a non-vegan version of this orzo salad by tossing in some crisped prosciutto (bake in your oven on a parchment or Silpat lined baking sheet at 375 degrees F for 10-12 minutes) and a handful of feta. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

  • 16 oz dried orzo pasta, cooked according to package directions
  • olive oil
  • 1 pound mixed summer squash, yellow and zucchini
  • 2 large garlic clove, minced (about 1.5 teaspoons) and divided
  • .75 pounds Roma beans, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch wide squares
  • 1 pint sungold cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 medium sweet, white onion, cut in half and sliced thinly
  • zest and juice of 1 large lemon
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chiffonade
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the squash and garlic and cook until tender. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook until tender, about 10-12 minutes.

While squash cooks, bring a medium pot full of water to a boil. Add the Roma beans and cook until crisp green, about 5 minutes. Drain and cool completely with cold water. Then add to the squash mixture.

In a large mixing bowl, add the lemon zest and lemon juice. Whisk in about 1/3 cup of olive oil until emulsified. Add the sweet onion slices and garlic and let this sit for about 10 minutes. Add cooled, cooked orzo, squash and Roma bean mix, oregano and pine nuts. Toss until well combined. Add the cherry tomato halves and most of the basil, then gently mix until tomatoes are distributed throughout. Season with salt and pepper to taste then serve, sprinkled with remaining basil.

CSA Count: 5

Squash, Roma beans, sweet onion, sungold cherry tomatoes, basil

Garden Count: 1

Fresh oregano


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