When I’m cooking for family, especially my younger sisters, there’s this window of opportunity you get every now and then through which you push a great food idea and hope that they’ll like it once it’s cooked. It’s a narrow chance, but it’s worth a shot. They’re fussy in a way that most people these days can be—one could eat Sindhi curry and rice for the rest of her life, while the other has a more flavour of the week approach to life-she was pescatarian one week, vegan the next, and gave up gluten for all of four days. What I like about them though is that they have an experimental palate and wouldn’t turn away from something without trying it first.
“That isn’t a salad, don’t call it a salad” says one of the twins to me when I inform her that there’s going to be an Orzo and Pepperoni salad for dinner. Fair enough, there are pasta and sausages in it, so I know it’s not winning any prizes for health, but when did salad become all about how healthy it is? I have a huge problem with this. The Orzo and Pepperoni pasta salad is a salad because it requires several components to be doused in a dressing. I’m not calling it a salad because it’s healthy, because not all salads are. You have to remember that just because today’s modern interpretation of salads is a streamlined breakup of leaf, veg/fruit, nut, protein and dressing, that’s definitely not all salads. Salads can be hearty too. Pasta salads, in particular, are hearty, as are egg salads, Waldorf salads, Caesar salads, Panzanella, and even something like a niçoise- all beautiful centrepieces that can also double up as great entrees.
Orzo is a dainty pasta now available at gourmet stores and one of the reasons I love it so much is because it looks like long grains of rice, but has the slippery soft texture of pasta. What’s more is that it sits really well in all those wild rice salads we have come to love so much. Orzo with a lemony dressing, grilled prawns and chilli flakes, or imagine meatballs and orzo together with a Harissa dressing, this new pasta opens up a whole new way of approaching a wholesome salad.
This one is wholesome because it combines baby spinach and basil leaves with chopped coriander, orzo, pepperoni slices, crushed almonds, chopped tomatoes and crumbled feta, with a brilliant lemony dressing.
Orzo and Pepperoni Salad
Yield 8-10 servings
A great picnic pasta salad, this one is made with orzo pasta available at gourmet stores. The Garofalo orzo took very little time to cook and I drizzled it with extra virgin olive oil before tossing it with the greens. Don’t dress the salad until it is time to serve.
Orzo 500g, cooked according to packet instructions
Cherry tomatoes 20-25, halved
Garlic 1 bulb
Extra virgin olive oil 3 tbsp
Baby spinach leaves 1 packed cup, torn
Basil leaves 1 packed cup, torn
Almonds 100g, crushed
Olives in brine 200g, chopped
Feta cheese 200g
Pepperoni 200g, I used the Pork Pepperoni Pre-sliced from The Seafood & Meat Co.
Coriander 1/4 cup, freshly chopped
Salt and pepper
Lime juice 2 tbsp
American mustard 1 tsp
Green chilli 1
Garlic 8-9 cloves
Chopped Coriander 1/4 cup
Onion 1 tbsp, chopped
Mixed herbs 1 tsp
White Vinegar 1/4 cup or more
Extra virgin olive oil 1/3 cup
Salt and pepper
Start by making the dressing. Blitz together the lime juice, mustard, garlic, chopped coriander, onion, mixed herbs and half of the vinegar in the jar of a mixer grinder. Taste and add more vinegar to make it a sharper vinaigrette. I like mine quite sharp so I add the whole 1/4 cup. Drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil while the motor is running and blitz until the mixture is thick. Season with salt and pepper.
Tear the papery skins off the garlic and chop into the tapering top side of the garlic to expose the cloves a bit. Take some aluminium foil and add the garlic to the foil, drizzle over with olive oil and roast the whole bulb of garlic in the oven on a high setting till it is nicely coloured.Tear the bulb apart and the slip the soft garlic out of its peels and chop them finely.
Cook the orzo according to packet instructions and once drained from its cooking liquid, toss with 3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil and add to a large mixing bowl. Add the torn spinach and basil leaves, halved cherry tomatoes, chopped almonds, chopped olives, pepperoni and coriander leaves. Toss together and don’t season until ready to serve. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and set it aside.
When serving, pull back the clingfilm, dress the salad with the dressing and crumble over the feta. The salt should be good at this point, but taste and adjust if necessary. Finish with freshly cracked black pepper.