January 15, 2011

Mediterranean Orzo Pasta Salad

There are a handful of dishes that I keep coming back to again and again, and this pasta salad is one of them. I created it several summers ago when I was in need of a side to bring to our weekly family dinner at my parent's house. It was an instant hit and continues to be my most requested dish at family gatherings. The cool, crisp cucumbers and vibrant basil are a perfect complement to the saltiness of the capers and feta, the sweetness of the tomatoes, and the fresh acidity of the lemon.

Mediterranean Orzo Pasta Salad

1 box Orzo pasta
2 large lemons, incl. zest
1 English cucumber, cut into bite-size pieces
2 regular tomatoes or about 1 dozen cherry tomatoes, cut into bite-size pieces
6 oz feta cheese, crumbled
3 Tbsp capers
8-10 fresh basil leaves (I chiffonade mine because it's pretty)
~ 1 cup light flavored olive oil
Salt and pepper

Cook the pasta according to package directions in a generous amount of salty water. I usually prefer my pasta al dente, but for cold pasta salad it can end up too firm -- adjust time accordingly. Drain and rinse well with cold water until pasta is no longer warm. In large bowl combine the pasta, cucumber, tomatoes, feta, capers, and basil. Add the zest of both lemons (it seems like a lot, but it really helps bring the dish alive). In separate container, juice both lemons and combine with the olive oil and salt/pepper according to taste-- shake well. Pour over the pasta dish and stir to combine. It will seem like too much olive oil at first, but the pasta will soak it right up. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours for best flavor.

You may find that the pasta soaks up so much of the olive oil and lemon juice that you need to add more before serving (the pasta will appear dry, whereas it should have a light sheen and slipperiness to it). You can add more of both or just add some olive oil.

The best part about this dish is that you can add, subtract or substitute the ingredients pretty easily and still have great flavor. In the picture above I had added some diced yellow peppers that I had in my fridge -- they were a great addition. If you don't like tomatoes, you can just as easily leave those out. Be creative!

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