6 May 2013

Orzo Salad with Roasted Tomatoes, Lemon Basil Vinaigrette and Ricotta Salata

Orzo Salad with Roasted Tomatoes and Lemon Basil Vinaigrette 
I have vague memories of being in elementary school and bringing a picnic lunch in a flowered lunch box with Brady Bunch stickers and doodles of David Cassidy from The Partridge Family to school for my friends to bid on to raise money for some unknown cause. It could have been basketballs for the gym or to offset the cost of a field trip our class wanted to take. There were Strawberry Socials, sports days and White Elephant Sales all organized by our parents or teachers with the same goal to make us well rounded and enhance our educational experience. The arrival of Spring not only brought warm weather, and school outings but it was a state of mind. Everything seemed to come alive!!

My first picnic may have been in the backyard next to the fish pond with my sister and Barbie and Ken sipping lemonade and creating dandelion and clover sandwiches. Only partially edible of course but through the eyes of a child everything is driven by our imaginations. With the arrival of Spring I dig deep into the recesses of the hall closet and revisit my childhood by digging out my picnic basket and tablecloths and start searching for recipes that are picnic friendly. I remember long lazy days in summer when mom would pack a picnic basket to take down to the beach where we would frolic in the waves for hours kissed by the sun. I would hop on my bike with a picnic lunch in my "rat trap" and head for the local conservation areas with a group of friends.  L'il Burnt Toast and I spent many days over the summer doing just that both here in the Okanagan valley and where she grew up in Southern Ontario. The difference being, my daughter learned at a very young age to appreciate my gourmet picnics. Just like what came out of our kitchen there were very few hotdogs or peanut butter sandwiches for this family. More than likely you would find spanakopita, chicken or turkey spirals stuffed with proscuitto or goat cheese, shrimp cocktail, creme brûlée or strawberry cheesecakes. There were always a myriad of salads mirroring the seasons.

"When you finally go back to your old home, 
you find that it wasn't your old home that you missed
 but your childhood." 

Sam Ewing 

With less than satisfactory local produce available right now I turn to what we can find from our local greenhouses or reinvent what is readily available all year round. Tomatoes are packed with sunshine so while you're puttering around your house this weekend, tuck a pan of tomatoes in the oven, come back several hours later, and have a peak. They will add a whole new dimension of flavour to your dishes. Not only does slow-roasting concentrate and caramelize the intense flavour of cherry tomatoes, but it also gives them a meatier, more robust texture. The roasted tomatoes become versatile ingredients, perfect for tossing into pasta or salads, layering on sandwiches, or just using as a terrific side dish for grilled or roasted meats. I can't guarantee you will not have any left over so roast a double batch. They keep in the refrigerator for a week (or longer, if you can manage not to eat them all first), and you can freeze them, too. A bonus is the lovely tomato-infused olive oil left over after roasting; drizzle it over grilled vegetables or on the crusty bread , or use it in this basil vinaigrette.

The technique is simple. Spread them in one layer on a rimmed baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and herbs, and coat generously in olive oil. Roast slowly until the tomatoes are a deep, rich brown and very collapsed. You can certainly use this method throughout the year on less-than-ripe tomatoes that you would otherwise use as ping pong balls. They will remind you of lost sun-kissed summer days and picnics in the park.

You can, of course, vary this salad to your taste. I suggest roasted corn or zucchini in season, feta, olives, other herbs, like mint or parsley, added to the vinaigrette. Or omit the cheese altogether to make this vegan. The idea comes from The Bojon Gourmet but with my own twists. This simple salad with its burst of summer flavour has turned out to be one of my favourite picnic dishes. It is easy to pack in mason jars and requires no refrigeration. I know it will make an entrance on many picnics throughout the year. It is the Spring wine festival so you may even find me at a local winery enjoying the 30C weather with a glass of wine and my picnic basket.

Perfect for picnics

**Orzo Salad with Roasted Tomatoes and Lemon Basil Vinaigrette**

1 cup orzo
1/2 small English cucumber, seeded and diced
1 small sweet bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 medium red onion, diced
3-4 ounces ricotta salata
handful Italian parsley, chopped
Roasted Sun-Blushed Tomatoes (recipe below)
Lemon Basil Vinaigrette (recipe below)

Prepare the roasted tomatoes and vinaigrette recipes as below.

In a medium sized pot add salt and cook the orzo according to the package directions until al dente. Drain. Rinse with cool water. Place the orzo in a large bowl and toss with Lemon Basil Vinaigrette.

Add the cucumber, sweet pepper, onion, parsley and ricotta salata, and toss to combine, seasoning with a big pinch of salt and a good grinding of black pepper. Mix well.

Gently lift the cooled tomatoes out of their juices (sop up the juices with a bit of bread for a treat) and scatter them atop the salad. Carefully spoon the salad into serving bowls or plates, and garnish with small basil leaves.

I like this salad when freshly made, but it keeps well, chilled, for up to a few days.

Serves 6

**Sunblushed Tomatoes**
 makes about 1 cup (can easily be multiplied, though)

250g (1/2 lb) fresh cherry tomatoes ( I found some tiny Villagio Marzano tomatoes at our Italian grocers)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil

Heat your oven to its top temperature. Remove the stems from the tomatoes and cut larger ones in half along their equator. Place cut side up in an ovenproof dish.

Mix together the salt, thyme, and sprinkle over the top of the tomatoes. Drizzle over the olive oil and balsamic vinegar and put into the oven.

Immediately, turn the heat down to somewhere in the region of 165-200°F. This isn’t an exact science, and will depend on how long you want to wait for your tomatoes... the lower the temperature, the longer it will take but more flavourful they will be.

Cook for 2-3 hours, until the tomatoes are soft and fragrant. They should lose their raw look, but not be charred.

**Lemon Basil Vinaigrette**

Fresh basil and a bit of garlic are whirled into a simple fresh basil vinaigrette in this easy recipe. It's perfect on tomatoes, summer salad greens, or grilled meats.

1 cup basil leaves (about 1 large bunch)
1/4 cup good-quality olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon (plus zest)
1 small clove garlic
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a blender or food processor, whirl the basil, oil, lemon juice and garlic until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in lemon zest.

Makes about 1/2 cup

Whole Wheat Orzo and Grilled Vegetable Salad with Feta, Olives and Herbs - Kalyn's Kitchen
Orzo Pasta Salad My Way
Orzo with Zucchini, Dill and Feta
Spinach and Orzo Salad - Simply Recipes
 Orzo Salad with Spinach, Feta and Lemon - Dinner with Julie
Lemon Orzo Salad with Asparagus, Spinach and Feta - Two Peas and Their Pod
Orzo Salad with Spinach Pesto, Olives and Feta - The Kitchn
Orzo Salad with Arugula, Sin-Dried Tomatoes and Feta - Recipe Rebuild

Roasted Villagio Marzano tomatoes
You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author/owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison. Best Blogger Tips


  1. A lovely salad! Delightfully sumery and tasty.

    Yes, we all somehow miss our childhood...



  2. I know I would enjoy this..and just this weekend bookmarked a Ricardo recipe with roasted tomatoes..
    Thank you..I'll be back..
    I loved my Barbie and Ken and Midge days:)

  3. This looks delicious. I am so happy it is almost picnic time again!

  4. A truly stellar salad for spring al fresco dining. This sounds scrumptious, Val. I hope your week is off to a great start. Blessings...Mary

  5. Just the title of this had me drooling! Sounds like my kind of lunch!

  6. Happy Memories Val! And your salad is beautiful (I would love to have that for lunch today!) xo

  7. This look delicious dear Val,, ...but still feel hungry when I see your barbacue LOL
    All you make is delicious!!

  8. I love roasting not-quite-in-season tomatoes like this and adding them to meals! What a great lunch salad!

  9. What fun memories of picnics. I am very fond of orzo, in fact I've fallen madly in love with orzo. There is just so much you can do with it and it cooks so much more quickly than the brown rice that I loved for years. Great salad filled with the wonderful summer flavors of tomatoes & basil.

    1. I especially love orzo for picnic salads since unlike rice you can make your salad the day before and refrigerate without the texture changes.

  10. I love orzo and with the roasted tomatoes and wonderful vinaigrette added, this is one salad that I must bookmark. PS: Just an FYI Val, I have my risotto prepared, I just need to write my post. Tomorrow is graduation and then an online teaching course begins for me (as the student) for 5 weeks . . . even during my Hawaiian vacation . . . no rest for the wicked (which I guess that I am!).

    Great recipe!

  11. I think I used to have Brady bunch stickers on my lunch box too. I love roasted tomatoes as they become so sweet and delicious and this salad s perfect for a potluck. Saving this recipe for later.

  12. I love the way you eat. Your daughter was lucky too. I hope she takes after you in the kitchen. I need to remember the roasting of tomatoes. I tend to avoid tomatoes all winter long!

    1. L'il Burnt Toast has surpassed me in the kitchen. They call her Martha Stewart because she is also crafty and a talented painter. She is a dietician so she eats a lot of grains, sushi, stir fries, etc. but she also makes a flaky croissant and tender cake.

  13. Sweet post Val.
    Those tomatoes look so plump and luscious. Great salad. We're working on some picnic ideas for our upcoming challenge. You are an inspiration!
    P.S. Happy Mother's Day in advance.

  14. A perfect salad, Val. I do love roasting tomatoes...love garlic sprinkled on mine.
    Great memories in this post and that Ewing quote is right on the button.

  15. Lovely post Val! It's funny what memories we have about our childhood. Great salad, full of summer flavours - I haven't had orzo in a while but am wanting some now!

  16. I love using orzo for summer salads and yours sounds wonderful.

  17. Don't you liek saying Ricotta Salata! GREG

    1. I was surprised it was so flavourful, since this is the first time I have been able to find it.

  18. what a nice, bright side dish! for the record, barbie and ken make excellent picnic dates. :)

  19. Oh...lovely memories and stories of your picnic. This Orzo salad would be the perfect thing to bring for a picnic. My kids love it when I take them to the park, hang out and have a picnic/afternoon tea time there. :)

  20. Beautiful pictures ... great food. Thanks for sharing!

  21. Orzo is so great for a salad, and the roasted tomatoes look great with it!

  22. I love salads with orzo and make a delicious one that is from Ricardo. Happy Mother's Day!

  23. This is a great salad for a picnic that I will be trying this summer. Very nice post, Val!

  24. This salad has such a happy memory feeling for me, though I can't pinpoint why. :-) So delicious and perfect summery-ness. :-)

  25. This is the perfect salad Val, and I can't wait to sun blush some tomatoes! Hope you had a wonderful Mother's Day!


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