~more recently updated recipes~
2005: This is a delicious summer salad, one of the best pasta salads ever -- and it uses radicchio (a new green, er, red! for me). It took a bit of time but was easy to put together ahead of time, then combine just before serving.
Entirely by accident, I omitted the 5 tablespoons of olive oil specified in the original recipe. But everyone at the table agreed -- it wasn't missed, not in the least. And to change the proportion of pasta:vegetables, I doubled the sun-dried tomatoes, the olives and the radicchio. It remained a pasta salad (vs a vegetable salad with pasta) and I wouldn't hesitate to add still more tomatoes and olives -- and perhaps roasted peppers, capers, or asparagus tips.
2007: I made this salad a day ahead for a potluck. While radicchio makes for a 'very pretty' salad, since it's expensive and not always available, I was much pleased that the salad still looks great and to my taste, tastes even better without the radicchio.
This is now my 'go to' pasta salad for summer, no oil, fresh flavors, easy to make ahead, keeps. It's very light tasting, a great side side because it simply doesn't fight with any other foods.
RECIPE for SUMMER ORZO with RADICCHIO
Time to table: 3 - 4 hours
Makes (about) 8 cups
About 4 cups water
2 teaspoons table salt
1 1/2 cups orzo (or other tiny pasta)
1/2 cup pine nuts, optional
1/4 pound sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 pound Kalamata olives
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 generous tablespoon garlic
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, optional
2 cups radicchio, from 1 small head, chopped, optional
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped, yes, even this is optional!
Bring the water to boil in a large pot over MEDIUM HIGH. Add the salt and pasta. Stir lightly to separate the pasta, then cover, reduce heat to MEDIUM and simmer until tender but still firm to bite (with my pan/stove, 17 minutes was too long). Drain and cool slightly.
Toast the pine nuts in a small skillet over low heat, turning regularly and watching carefully, until lightly browned. Set aside to cool.
While the pasta cooks and pine nuts toast, chop the tomatoes and pit/chop the olives. Stir into the slightly cooled pasta. Add the vinegar, garlic and Parmesan. Refrigerate until completely cooled.
Chop the radicchio and basil. (To make ahead, I stored these in a large freezer bag.) Combine the pasta mixture, the radicchio/basil and the toasted pine nuts.
ALANNA's TIPS & KITCHEN NOTES
PINE NUTS These are expensive and require another pan to toast -- and I don't think they add that much to the salad. Next time, I won't use them unless they happen to be on hand.
SUN-DRIED TOMATOES The original recipe specified sun-dried tomatoes soaked in olive oil. But when I happened upon a container of very fresh, soft sun-dried tomatoes, I used them. Perhaps they made the salad extra good, and without the fat? I will definitely seek out again. That said, I know people successfully reconstitute those dessicated bits of sun-dried tomatoes by soaking them in boiling water or olive oil. To speed cutting: Slightly flatten and stack four or five tomatoes. Make several cuts one direction, then turn and make several perpendicular cuts.
PITTING / CHOPPING OLIVES On a hard surface, press the flat side of a knife against each olive, then extract the pit with your fingers. Once they're all pitted, you can then either chop or tear into two or three pieces.
BALSAMIC VINEGAR I used a "white" balsamic vinegar for the first time -- and was surprised when it poured out surprisingly brown. Still I think it stained the pasta less then regular balsamic.
PARMESAN Use a microplane to create big piles of fluffy Parmesan. That said, 1/2 cup was a small amount of cheese and didn't seem necessary so next time I won't use any at all. THAT said, I'd not hesitate to throw in some chunks of good feta.