Orzo pasta salad with seasonal vegetables.

Last week, I had the pleasure of giving a presentation and demonstrating a recipe to kick off The Christ Hospital’s quarterly Let’s Talk Women’s Health event. We had a great evening, and it was a packed house. Speaking about the joys and pleasures of eating seasonally and locally is one of my favorite professional gigs because: who doesn’t love to talk about food?

I demonstrated one of my favorite recipes from The Findlay Market Cookbook, one that I both make at home and demonstrate to groups quite frequently: Orzo Pasta Salad with Seasonal Vegetables.

If you’ve ever been to a potluck or cookout and had air-quotes-pasta salad [You know what I’m talking about, right? That bowl of mushy corkscrew pasta with raw vegetables and icky bottled Italian dressing.] then this is NOT that pasta salad.

Nope, THIS pasta salad has the perfect balance of pasta and veg, with a bright, tangy, decidedly non-icky homemade dressing. Orzo is the genius pasta for pasta salad, because it stays nicely toothsome and doesn’t overwhelm the dish, and cooking it in vegetable broth gives it, you know, actual flavor.

Any time of year, this orzo pasta salad recipe is the perfect accompaniment to grilled chicken, burgers, steak, what have you — and leftovers make a terrific packable lunch the next day.

But what I love most about this easy pasta salad recipe is that it’s eminently malleable. In the summer, I add fresh corn kernels, cherry tomatoes and tons of basil; in the fall, roasted butternut squash and red onion.

Here, I’m sharing a springtime version, with peas and asparagus. Now that the season for these delectables is coming, you’ll want to have this recipe handy. Yay, spring!

SPRING ORZO PASTA SALAD RECIPE

serves 8 as a side dish

For the dressing:
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon local honey
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Place the vinegar, lemon juice, honey, salt and pepper in a blender or food processor. With the machine running, slowly drizzle the olive oil in; blend to emulsify.

For the salad:
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 lb. (dried) orzo
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained
2 cups frozen peas, blanched in boiling water 3 minutes
1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed, cut in 1-inch pieces and blanched in boiling water 3 minutes
1 bunch baby arugula
1/3 cup chopped green onion (white and green parts)
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
½ cup toasted pine nuts or sliced almonds
4 ounces Feta cheese, crumbled
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a saucepan, bring the broth to a boil; stir in the orzo. Cover partially and cook until the orzo is al dente, stirring frequently, about 7 minutes. Drain the orzo and put it into a big serving bowl to cool. While the pasta is still warm, add about half the dressing and toss to coat. Let cool. Add garbanzo beans, peas, asparagus and toss gently to combine. Add arugula, onion and parsley and a bit more dressing; toss to coat. Top salad with Feta and almonds. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as needed. Serve at room temperature.

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