orzo pasta salad with summer vegetables and fresh herbs | writes4food.com

Summery herbed orzo salad.

This is what I’m craving now: Summer vegetables and bright herbs, a bite of salty cheese and a satisfying pasta base. I’ve made this recipe for herbed pasta salad (from my book,  “The Findlay Market Cookbook“) several times lately, first as a cooking demo down at Findlay Market, and then for dinner last week. This week, I’m making it again for a family picnic. Local cheesemaker Eduardo Rodriguez of My Artisano Foods shared the recipe for the book.

Cooking the orzo in vegetable stock gives it more flavor than your typical pasta-salad pasta. The chickpeas are key: they add texture and heft. Use whatever veggies and herbs you find at your farmers’ market: I think corn, tomato and sweet onion would be awesome. Either Feta or fresh goat cheese would be swell, but you could also do diced smoked gouda or mozzarella for a different taste.

Here are two keys to amazing pasta salad, courtesy of a post I recently spotted on Epicurious: First, rub the halves of a garlic clove all over your serving bowl to give just a hint of flavor without the breath-destroying fire of fresh garlic. Second, dress the salad while the pasta is a bit warm so it absorbs all that yumminess.

You’ll be eating this all summer long, I promise!

herbed orzo salad with summer vegetables recipe

(serves 6)

For the dressing:
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 cup good olive oil

Combine all but the olive oil in a blender and whirl to combine. Add the olive oil in a thin stream and blend to emulsify.

For the pasta salad:
1 large clove garlic, smashed
4 cups vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups orzo
1 can chickpeas, drained
2 pints mixed cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup finely minced red onion, or to taste
1 cucumber, finely chopped
1 cup minced fresh herbs (parsley, chives, thyme, basil, oregano, savory)
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
4 ounces Feta or goat cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

First, rub the smashed garlic clove all over your serving bowl. In a saucepan, bring the vegetable stock to a boil; add the orzo, reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for 7–8 minutes or until the orzo is done. Drain the orzo and transfer it to the serving bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and dressing to taste. Season with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature.

Best recipes for summer fruit.

This summer, my food cravings — and my culinary makings — are all about fresh fruit. I picked 10 pounds of strawberries in June and went through 12 pounds of peaches in early July. Now I’m anticipating blueberries and raspberries, followed by fall’s gorgeous honeycrisp apples. So here’s a roundup of my favorite fruit-based summer recipes so far. Enjoy!

fresh peaches with yogurt and homemade pecan granola | writes4food.com

Fresh peach parfait with toasted pecan granola.

This, this is the perfect breakfast for these steamy mornings (even coffee seems too hot to bother with). Cool, refreshing, fruity, and full of nutrition. Easy, too: Just pile sliced fresh peaches, vanilla yogurt (I love the Snowville Creamery brand) … and the topper: Homemade toasted pecan granola. Because who doesn’t love peaches and pecans together?

I’ll be making this all summer long, rotating in fresh fruit as it comes into season. Now that I’m down to my last 3 peaches, I’ll soon move on to blueberries and raspberries. The yogurt and granola, of course, will remain the constants.

toasted-pecan granola recipe

3 cups old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup very coarsely chopped toasted pecans
1/4 cup light or dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons agave nectar
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 egg white whisked with 1 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 325°. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment. In a large bowl, mix together oats, sunflower seeds, nuts, brown sugar, salt and cinnamon. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the egg white and water; add agave, honey, maple syrup and vanilla, and whisk until mixture is blended and slightly frothy. Pour agave mixture over oat mixture and, using a large rubber spatula, fold ingredients together until the dry ingredients are well-coated. Spread granola on baking sheet; if you want some clumps, press down on the mixture with a spatula. Bake for 15 minutes. Using a spatula, turn the granola gently, moving the mixture from the outer edges of the pan toward the middle and vice versa. Bake 8 to 10 minutes more until lightly browned. Reduce oven temperature to 250; return pan to oven and bake another 15 to 20 minutes until the granola is toasty brown and mostly dried. Remove pan from oven and let cool. Store in a plastic bag or container.

peach streusel bar cookies recipe | writes4food.com

Peach crumb-top bars.

These crumb-topped fruit bar cookies are the perfect use for summer peaches. Super easy, too: Just mix up the crumb ingredients in a big bowl with your hands, toss some sliced peaches with cornstarch, layer in a pan, bake. Done!

I’ve combined a couple of iterations for this buttery, crumbly bar cookie recipe, starting with Smitten Kitchen’s blueberry crumb bars and making a few alterations. I took a batch to my Grandma’s house yesterday, and she, my brother and I agreed these are delicious!

peach crumb-top bar cookies recipe

(makes about 24 bars)

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 large egg, lightly beaten
5 peaches, sliced thin
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 375°. Spray a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish with cooking spray. In a large bowl, use your hands to mix together the flour, sugars, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Add the butter and use your fingers to work it into the dry ingredients, creating a clumpy mixture. Add the egg and use your hands to toss the mixture to combine. It will be crumbly. Transfer about 3/4 of the crumb mixture to the prepared pan and press firmly into place. In a medium bowl, toss the peach slices with the cornstarch; arrange them over the crumb base in a single layer. Use your fingers to squeeze the remaining crumb mixture into clumps and scatter them over the peaches. Bake for 35–40 minutes, until top is slightly brown and you can see a little color around the edges. Cool completely in pan before cutting into squares. Store, covered, in the refrigerator or wrap well and freeze up to 6 months.

super delicious grilled pepper and egg sandwiches | writes4food.com

Grilled pepper and egg sandwich.

I think I might eat this sandwich every week through summer.

Rob and I gush over this simple sandwich recipe — a grilled, egg-filled red bell pepper with lots of cheese — every time we make it. Which is frequently. It’s just so ridiculously good.

I’m told this is a traditional Italian workingman’s lunch, one of those peasant dishes that are supremely tasty because of their simplicity.

Go. Get a red pepper, some farm-fresh eggs, sliced cheddar or American cheese, hearty English muffins. Fire up the grill. Grab a stack of napkins. The very best grilled sandwich, ever.

grilled pepper and egg sandwich

(serves 2)

1 large red bell pepper
2 fresh eggs
2 (or, OK, 4) slices cheddar or American cheese
2 English muffins, split
Salt and pepper

Preheat grill to medium, or preheat broiler. Halve the pepper lengthwise and remove seeds and ribs. Carefully remove the stem from each half, cutting as close to the stem as possible (you want a "cup" that will contain the egg). Season each pepper half well with kosher salt. Crack one egg into each pepper "cup" and season generously with salt and freshly ground pepper. Carefully transfer the peppers to the grill and cook, covered, for about 12 minutes or until the peppers are lightly softened and charred and the eggs are set. (If using the broiler, check for doneness after about 8 minutes.) Top the peppers with cheese and grill or broil briefly to melt. Remove the peppers to a platter and let sit for 10 minutes. Toast the English muffins on the grill or broiler; butter each half. Place one pepper-egg on a muffin half, top with the other half.

lentil salad with spiced vinaigrette | writes4food.com

Beautiful lentil salad with spiced vinaigrette.

This, people, this gorgeous lentil salad is the thing you’ll want to eat for lunch all week long. It’s beautiful, portable, flavorful. And beyond easy to make. And, I should say, customizable — start with the base of hearty French lentils and add whatever you fancy. Just don’t futz with the dressing. The dressing makes it.

This lovely lentil salad recipe is part of The Findlay Market Cookbook, courtesy of Joanne Drilling (chef, editor, mom, colleague). The dressing is remarkable: full of warm spices that wrap around the toothsome lentils and hang out with tangy Feta cheese. Don’t be offput by the list of spices in the dressing recipe; just go to Dean’s Mediterranean Market or Colonel De’s at Findlay Market and buy fresh spices, in exactly the amounts called for.

Add a handful of arugula or spinach. Some goat cheese or Feta. Cherry tomatoes. Or don’t, your call. Have it as a side for dinner tonight, then lunch on it for the next couple of days.

Joanne Drilling's lentil salad with spiced vinaigrette recipe

serves 4–6

2 1/4 cups duPuy lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 small shallot, minced
1 cup dried currants
1/4 cup capers (in brine), drained
2 cups shredded carrot
Salt and freshly ground pepper

for the vinaigrette:
1/4 cup good extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon Indian curry powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne

Place the lentils in a large saucepan and cover with 3–4 inches of water; add a generous pinch of salt. Bring the water to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook, about 15–20 minutes. Taste the lentils after 15 minutes and be sure they're al dente and not mushy. Rinse the lentils under cold water to stop the cooking; drain and transfer to a large serving bowl. Add the shallot, currants, capers and carrot. In a jar with a lid, combine all the vinaigrette ingredients; shake well to combine. Pour the vinaigrette over the lentil salad and toss gently to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Optional add-ins: crumbled Feta cheese, roughly chopped arugula or spinach, toasted nuts, fresh herbs, any cooked seasonal vegetables

strawberry vinegar shrub

Strawberry vinegar shrub.

Between two trips to Blooms & Berries in Cincinnati’s Loveland suburb, I figure I’ve picked close to 10 pounds of strawberries this season. I just can’t get enough.

Here’s the thing about eating seasonally in the Midwest: The fruits and veggies you crave have a pretty short window of availability, mostly. Asparagus? That’s about 5 weeks and — BOOM! — done. Sweet peas, even less. Arugula and lettuce? They bolt at the first blast of summer heat (which hit, unusually, in early June this year). Strawberries were around for about a month; when I went to pick on the farm’s last day, it was an hour-long treasure hunt to find enough sweet berries to fill my basket.

Because these flavors are so fleeting, we eat as much of them as we can, prepared in as many ways as we can, for as long as we can. And then we’ve had our fill and we’re ready to move on. (News flash: The Peach Truck from Georgia makes its annual stops in Cincinnati this week, so I’ll have a half-bushel of peaches to gorge on.) Mario Batali calls this ‘scorpacciata’ — you can see his interpretation of this Italian ideal of eating here.

I made ice cream and pie … and another pie. I topped my favorite overnight oatmeal in a jar recipe with smashed strawberries that had gone a little soft. I’ve sought ways to preserve summer strawberries in different ways. I experimented with pickled strawberries. I made freezer jam (with the classic Ball Canning recipe). And I made strawberry shrub.

What’s a shrub? It’s showing up on all kinds of craft cocktail menus, as a sort of next-generation housemade mixer. A shrub is an infusion of fruit, vinegar and sugar, and it’s a long-held way of preserving fruit for storage. This strawberry shrub recipe is adapted from Culinate; it’s very simple to make.

In this shrub recipe, I used a combination of red wine vinegar for a deep flavor and rose color and apple cider vinegar for tartness. With any food I intend to keep for awhile, I err on the side of caution and sterilize my storage containers. I did not add herbs to this, because I wanted just a pure strawberry flavor, but that would be a tasty option.

Fruit shrubs are delicious mixed with sparkling water or club soda — a refreshing take on the flavored waters that are so popular now. And, of course, they’re great in cocktails. Strawberry shrub pairs beautifully with gin; you could make a big pitcher of the ‘Another Shrubbery’ cocktail recipe here for a party. You can make shrub with all kinds of fruit; I plan to make a raspberry version in later summer, and I think blueberry shrub would be lovely, too.

While strawberries are still around, give this strawberry shrub recipe a try!

basic strawberry shrub recipe

makes about 2 1/2 cups

2 cups ripe fresh strawberries, washed, hulled, and cut into chunks
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup vinegar (I used 1/2 cup red wine vinegar and 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar)
1 large sprig thyme, mint or basil (optional)

Wash a quart Mason jar and lid, then sterilize them by pouring boiling water over them; let them sit for 10 minutes, then empty and cool.

Add the strawberries and sugar, and use a wooden spoon to mash the berries to create a chunky mixture. Top the jar with the lid and let it sit on the counter overnight. After 24 hours, add the vinegar and herbs, if using. Cover and gently shake the jar until the sugar has dissolved. Stash the jar in the refrigerator for 1 week. Strain the mixture through a sieve, pressing on the solids with a wooden spoon to extract all the liquid and flavor. If you'd like a clear shrub, strain it again through a coffee filter (this will take several hours). Wash and re-sterilize your jar and lid; transfer the shrub to the jar and refrigerate up to 6 months.

Another Shrubbery cocktail

makes 1 drink

2 ounces gin
1 ounce St. Germain elderflower liqueur
1 ounce strawberry shrub
3 dashes orange bitters
Club soda

In a highball glass with ice, stir together the ingredients. Top with club soda, and add a mint or basil sprig for garnish, if desired.


Metropole burnt carrot salad recipe

Metropole’s burnt carrot salad.

When Rob and I first had dinner at Metropole, the lovely restaurant in Cincinnati’s 21c Museum Hotel, we were gobsmacked by a simple salad of charred carrots. Metropole’s culinary m.o. is cooking over a wood-fired hearth, and these carrots were blistered and blackened to a charry sweetness, then topped with toasted seeds, avocado and Feta cheese. Seriously, I dreamed of this salad.

(In fact, it inspired an exploration of non-lettuce salad recipes that I’ve shared here, including a roasted carrot and red pepper salad and a spring salad with peas and mint.)

As I compiled The Findlay Market Cookbook and sought recipes from local chefs, I held out hope that then-Metropole-chef Michael Paley would share his recipe for the burnt carrot salad. And he did. And I’m happy to pass it along to you here!

Metropole's burnt carrot salad recipe

serves 4

2 large carrots, peeled and trimmed
2 firm avocados, halved and thickly sliced
1/2 cup Feta cheese
1/4 cup pickled red onion (optional)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
3 tablespoons toasted, salted pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons good olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

Cut the carrots in half lengthwise, then in 3-inch lengths. In a small saucepan, bring 2 cups of well-salted water to a simmer; poach the carrots until they're just tender, about 8 minutes. Preheat a grill to medium. Toss the carrots gently with a bit of olive oil, and grill them until they're nice and charred. Set the carrots aside at room temperature to cool. To make the salad, combine the carrots, avocado, Feta, pickled onion and herbs. Drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil; very gently toss the ingredients to blend. Divide among 4 plates and garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds.

smashed potato salad with bacon and fresh herbs recipe | writes4food.com

Smashed potato salad with bacon and herbs.

I’m not a potato salad person. At least, not in the traditional potato-and-mayo-and-eggs-and-relish kind of potato salad person. The very few potato salad recipes I do make tend toward the lighter side, with Greek yogurt or sour cream pitching in for some of the mayo and fresh herbs instead of pickle relish.

I love this easy potato salad recipe (and not just because it contains bacon … well, maybe because it contains bacon). It fits my fickle potato salad criteria.

This began as a recipe in Martha Stewart’s “Everyday Food,” but I’ve made it often and have adapted it to fit my own preferences. Smashing the spuds slightly adds a luxurious texture that sends this slightly in a mashed potato direction.

This bacony potato salad is perfect alongside a grilled steak or a pile of fried chicken. Use fresh local potatoes if you can find them — the lovely spring new potatoes in the photo came from Farm Beach Bethel, and they’re nicely starchy and sweet. I think new or russet potatoes work better than Yukon Golds in this, because the latter can get a bit gummy.

If you’re like me, you’ll be enjoying this at backyard barbecues all summer long!

smashed potato salad with bacon and fresh herbs

makes 6 side dish servings

2 pounds new potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
3/4 cup low-fat sour cream or Greek yogurt
1/4 cup mayonnaise made with olive oil
1/2 cup minced fresh herbs (chives, parsley, savory)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large bowl, whisk together the sour cream and mayo. In a large saucepan, add the potatoes and water to cover; add enough kosher salt to make the water taste salty. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 12–15 minutes. (Check the potatoes after about 10 minutes to be sure they don't completely fall apart.) Drain the potatoes and add them, still warm, to the bowl with the sour cream and mayo. Use a wooden spoon to smash some of the potatoes, leaving others chunky. Gently fold in the cooked bacon and fresh herbs. Season to taste with salt and a generous grind of pepper. Serve at room temperature. (Note: The salad will keep for several days in the refrigerator; add a bit of milk if it gets a bit stiff.)

Salad dressing recipe roundup.

OK, so pretty much every list of foods you should NOT buy at a grocery store includes salad dressing at or near the top. Why? Bottled, commercially made salad dressing typically includes a laundry list of ingredients, including high fructose corn syrup, preservatives and artificial flavoring.

It’s sooooo much better, healthier and cheaper to make your own salad dressing. I have a jar of easy homemade salad dressing in the fridge all the time. These dressing recipes include just 5 or 6 ingredients, no sugar or sugar substitute. They aren’t necessarily low fat (those dressings made with low fat Greek yogurt are, in fact, low fat). But they’re natural, made with whole ingredients. And — culinary tip alert!!! — if you salt your salad greens before dressing them, you’ll need less dressing.

Here’s a peek at my favorite easy homemade salad dressing recipes!