Fennel and Leeks

Fennel and Leeks

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Orzo Salad With Artichoke Hearts, Slivered Almonds, and Golden Raisins

Seattle has experienced an unprecedented amount of warm weather and sunshine this spring and early summer. The month of June shattered several Seattle warm weather records as detailed in this KOMOnews.com article. This weather has continued well into July and the forecast doesn't seem to be changing. We even tied the all time record for most consecutive 90+ degree days during this past month. It has been an amazing summer so far! Needless to say, when we invited our good friends, the Bettmans, over for dinner on the deck last week, it was necessary to come up with a menu that suited the heat wave. I couldn't pinpoint a particular cuisine so I decided to make a summer smorgasbord. My first recipe is featured below and my second recipe will follow in the next entry.

The first recipe I chose is Orzo Salad With Artichoke Hearts, Almonds, and Golden Raisins. Actually, the original recipe calls for pine nuts but I made a tweak. Since pine nuts are one of the softer nuts around, I immediately decided that I wanted to use a harder, crunchier nut for texture. I looked in my pantry and what do you know, I had plenty of slivered almonds on hand. I also had fresh basil and green onions from the garden so I went for it. 


1/4 cup fresh lemon juice 
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup olive oil

1 lb orzo pasta
olive oil
12 fresh baby artichokes or 2 cans artichoke hearts, rinsed
1 lemon, halved
3/4 cup golden raisins 
1/3 cup almond slices, toasted
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, julienned
3 green onions, including tender green tops, thinly sliced on the diagonal
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

To make the dressing, use a food processor to combine lemon juice, mustard, garlic, basil, and olive oil. Puree until smooth and emulsified. Transfer to small bowl and set aside.

Bring a large pot three-fourths full of salted water to boil over high heat. Add orzo and cook according to the package directions until al dente. Transfer to large bowl and toss lightly with a little bit of olive oil to prevent grains from sticking together. 

If using fresh artichokes, trim the stems, leaving about 1/2 inch. Cut 1/2 inch off tops. Peel away tough outer leaves until you reach the tender, pale green leaves. Cut each artichoke lengthwise into 6 wedges and rub them with the cut lemon halves. Bring a pot of three-fourths full of water to boil. Add artichokes and cook until tender, about 14 minutes. Drain and let cool to room temperature. If using canned artichokes, drain and cut lengthwise into 6 wedges. Toast the almonds by placing them in a sauté pan on medium-low heat. Make sure you stir them constantly and only toast them for a few minutes because they burn easily.

Add artichokes, raisins, toasted almonds, basil, and green onions to bowl of orzo. Drizzle with dressing and toss to coat evenly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to serving bowl and serve immediately. Serves 8. 

This recipe is absolutely delicious and I mean the kind of delicious that makes it the highlight of the meal. The raisins play beautifully with the basil, lemon juice, and Dijon mustard. As I have often mentioned, I love the mix of sweet with savory. I also appreciate a dish with balanced acidity. These four ingredients were truly a perfect match. Keeping the orzo al dente and toasting the slivered almonds created the perfect amount of texture and crunch. I just can't say enough about how good this salad tasted! 

I must admit that I chose to use jarred artichoke hearts instead of preparing them fresh. The reason for this choice was simply that I am not familiar with preparing fresh artichokes and I had three dishes that I needed to get done in time for dinner. I love learning to work with a new product but I simply didn't have the time. I also don't mind artichoke hearts out of the jar so it was just fine with me to use them. Finally, this dish is super tasty the following day so don't be afraid to make enough to eat for dinner the first night, lunch the next day, and dinner again. Enjoy!

Recipe Source:
"Williams-Sonoma Outdoor Entertaining", page 134

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