|Orzo Salad with Roasted Tomatoes and Lemon Basil Vinaigrette|
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."
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)
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.
makes about 1 cup (can easily be multiplied, though)
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
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|Roasted Villagio Marzano tomatoes|