So I’ve been stalling a bit on the blog writing simply because it is a new thing for me and if I’m being honest, I’m quite apprehensive about writing a lot of rubbish! I read so many other food blogs and their posts are clever, witty, informative and I’m scared mine will fall short. I’m not a writer but I love cooking. We can’t be good at all things but I do know that unless you try and try again you will never improve. So here we are. Bear with me on my blogging journey ups and downs please!
This salad is inspired by a salad pot you can purchase from Marks & Spencer (M&S) back home in the UK. For those not in the know, M&S do a range of salad pots which are ideal for lunch instead of a sandwich or as a side dish with a main meal. They are always bringing out new additions but this orzo salad is an oldie but goodie.
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love an M&S foodhall (even my sister, who survived working in one during the run up to Christmas one year!) When I lived in London, despite working a few minutes away from the shopping mecca of Oxford Street, I used to spend my lunch hours browsing the foodhalls in M&S and Waitrose. Food is my hobby and my love. My degree is in retail business (or shopping as some have said!) and my final year dissertation was about the rise of the supermarket own-brand, so my obsession with food goes back a long way.
Let’s get back to the salad – it’s a bit of a fave. What’s not to love about teeny pasta shaped like riced, flavoured up with olives, capers, semi-dried tomatoes, salty feta, basil and a honey & mustard dressing. I mean c’mon – what an addictive combination.
Orzo is great because it cooks really quickly and it looks a bit like rice – clever huh!
I’d been dying to make this for a long time but could not find orzo pasta ANYWHERE I tried here in Singapore. That was until we were in the queue at an M&S here in Singa buying mince pies for Christmas, when I suddenly spotted orzo on the shelf. Wooooo Hooooo thank you Marks and Spencer :O)
The trick with serving a cold pasta salad is you need to ensure the pasta ‘grains’ do not stick together. You do this by coating them in some extra virgin olive oil after draining and steam drying for a couple of minutes. You can stir it through with a fork but I quite like getting stuck in there with clean hands and using my fingers – this allows you to make sure the oil is on 99.9% of the grains.
Once the pasta has its oil coat on, line a baking sheet with parchment and spread the pasta out in a thin layer to allow it to cool quickly. I use a fork to comb through it every so often to make sure there is no sticking.
Once cool it is time to flavour the baby up with the sprinkles, as I like to call them. My fave combination is toasted pine nuts, crumbled feta, capers, olives, sun-blush tomatoes and basil. I’ve also added shredded spinach in the past for some extra green. In the ingredients list below I’ve used ‘a handful of’ as a measurement as I think this should be totally to your taste. If you want more nuts add more, if you hate capers don’t add them. Cooking should not be rigid.
Transfer the cooled pasta to a bowl or serving dish and add the prepared sprinkles. Then it is time to whisk up the dressing which will marry everything together.
Stir the dressing and sprinkles into the pasta gently with a fork. Now you have to be a bit patient and allow the flavours to develop for a while, say 20-30 mins. Then serve up. I often make this alongside a couple of other salads so there’s a medley going on but it is equally delicious on its own or as a side dish to roast chicken.
I’d be very surprised if you don’t go back for seconds or thirds…. enjoy! x
orzo pasta salad
‘rice’ pasta heaven
- 250g orzo pasta
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- handful of semi-dried or sun-blush tomatoes
- handful of basil leaves
- handful of feta cheese, crumbled
- 2 tablespoons of capers
- handful of pitted olives
- 2 tablespoons of toasted pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons of grain mustard
- 1 tablespoon of honey
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- bring a large pan of water to the boil.
- add the pasta and stir, set your timer to 5 minutes.
- once the 5 minutes are up, have a taste of a couple of grains and check if al dente. If still hard, leave to boil for another minute then check again.
- once al dente, drain the pasta and allow to steam dry in the sieve or colander for a couple of minutes.
- pour a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil onto the cooked pasta and stir with your fingers or with a fork to ensure all the grains are covered. Do not skip this step or your pasta will stick together as it cools
- line a sheet or tray with baking paper and tip out the pasta onto it. Spread out evenly and leave to cool. Run a fork through the pasta every now and then to make sure the grains are not sticking together.
- whilst the pasta is cooling, prepare the other ingredients (sprinkles).
- if your pine nuts are not toasted already, put a fry frying pan on a medium heat and add the pine nuts. Keep shaking the pan and do not take your eye off it for a second otherwise you might find the pine nuts burnt! Once the nuts are golden, remove to a plate to cool.
- crumble the feta, I like to leave it in fairly large chunks at this stage as it breaks down a bit more when stirring the pasta, dressing and other sprinkles in.
- roughly chop the tomatoes and basil.
- slice the olives in half.
- if you are using capers in vinegar or salt, rinse them gently in cold water then dry on a piece of kitchen paper.
- now prepare the dressing. As the pasta has already had a tablespoon of oil you don’t need to add so much to the dressing.
- in a small bowl combine the other tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, grain mustard, vinegar, honey and some black pepper. Whisk to combine then have a taste. Feel free to adjust to your taste. Remember there is some oil already in the pasta.
- once the pasta has cooled tip into the bowl then tip the sprinkles on top.
- pour over the dressing and stir gently to combine everything together.
- allow to sit for 20-30 mins if you have the patience, to allow the flavours to develop then serve and enjoy!
- if you are preparing in advance, keep refrigerated but bring out the fridge about a half hour before you want to serve as it is best when not fridge cold.
- This salad, given the chance (!) will last well in the fridge for up to 5 days so perfect for weekday lunches.
- If like me you have trouble finding orzo pasta, you can use any small pasta shapes. You can often find mini pasta for putting in soups – that would do the trick. It might need a little longer cooking to become al dente.
- feel free to scale up or down the quantities depending on your needs. It does last well in the fridge though.