Sunday, June 17, 2012

Star (Supposed to be Orzo) Pasta Salad: New Family Favorite

Last week the Pipkins' Family Reunion was held in this old house with it's high ceilings, ample seating space, and warm welcoming atmosphere.  The rain dampened nothing but the outside, spirited conversations (and a few spirits on the front porch the night before) and the catching up on a year's worth of news permeated every corner of every room of the house.  Two six-foot tables were filled with food from one end to the other -- and that's just food, sweet tea and desserts were on two other tables.  There wasn't a bad thing on the food tables at all but there was one favorite for me and The Fellows and Gurlfriends:  Claudia's orzo salad.

I know.  This isn't orzo.

 Amazing, right?  We could've fed another fifty people.

The orzo salad brought by Claudia, though... The flavors were unexpected:  heavy basil without being overpowering, crunch of pine nut and finely diced sweet onion, sweet bites of cranberry, and just enough olive oil to coat the pasta and help blend the flavors.  We were fairly fighting over the leftovers of it, which were all gone by Sunday night.  

I decided today I wanted to make it to carry to friends' house whose mom had passed.  I've known them my entire life, their children were in Mama's kindergarten, their grandchildren entrusted to my care as a home-based child care provider in a previous chapter of life a decade long.  The memorandum was made:  feta cheese, dried cranberries, and orzo.

Have I mentioned before that Leakesville has one grocery store?  Yep.  Piggly Wiggly.  The dollar stores and Fred's also have some groceries but the Pig is the main source for food in this town of 898 souls.  List in hand and cruising down the dairy aisle I was delighted to find crumbled feta cheese, the one item on the list I wasn't expecting to find.  I had already planned to substitute smoked gouda for it (and may yet).  Dried cranberries were in stock.  Only orzo was left to pick up.  Alas.  No orzo.  

I didn't think elbow or fusilli, bowtie or shell or rigatini or penne would work.  The pasta needed to be dense or compact to carry it's own starchiness and heft in the salad.  Or something of that nature.  Glancing around I spotted the star pasta from Mexico.  It'd have to work (and it did).

Coming home to cook the pasta and assemble the salad, I discovered there were no pine nuts.  I think I ate them a couple of weeks ago.  I get like that sometimes, purchasing a whole can of unsalted roasted cashews and consuming a few at a time every time they're walked by until they're gone... or a half pound of pine nuts taken out of the freezer in the course of cleaning it.

There are plenty of roasted chopped pecans, though.  And a lime to add back in flavor that's going to be missing from the pine nuts.  

I've guessed at the amounts of everything making Claudia's salad and it's so close to hers, I'll have to have her make it again just to check and see (which is an awesome way to get her back up here from the Coast).

Here's what you'll need:
One pound of orzo (or two 7 ounce packages star pasta)
Half-cup extra virgin olive oil
Zest from one lime
Juice of one lime
Half-cup diced fresh basil
Half-cup finely chopped sweet onion
Half-cup roasted chopped pecans (or half-cup pine nuts and forget the lime)
Four ounces of crumbled feta
One cup dried cranberries
 No Southern freezer is without pecans in it.  I keep roasted chopped
pecans in the freezer for cheesecake crusts, Italian cream cakes, and 
emergencies, just like today's.
Fresh basil from the little herb garden.  I only grow rosemary,
garlic, oregano, basil, dill, and taragon - my favorites!

Cook pasta, drain, and rinse well.  In bowl combine olive oil, lime zest, lime juice, chopped onion, and basil.  Add everything else but the pasta, making sure everything is well coated with oil.

Add pasta and mix until all ingredients are well distributed.
Only the pasta water was salted.  The feta's saltiness is adequate
for the entire salad.
I've put it in the very same pretty (disposable) bowl Claudia brought the salad in last week so the family won't have to return it.  It's also been garnished with basil blossoms.

It's quick and easy and delicious.  I had everything chopped and mixed together by the time the pasta was finished cooking.  With any recipe posted, y'all make it your own.  My friend Chris doesn't care for pine nuts and said she used almonds instead.  I'm so going to do that when I make this again.  Don't care for basil?  uhmmmm... it kind of IS the main flavor - you might want to try a different recipe.  Dried blueberries or white raisins instead of dried cranberries?  I think that'd be splendid!  Make it your family favorite today.

Y'all enjoy!


  1. Mary, you don't stop surprising me! What a great job you have done! Love the pictures and the way you explained how to make the recipe step by step. Thank you one more time for inviting me to your beautiful home. It was a pleasure to meet all of you and enjoy your great food!

  2. Mary, this looks so tasty. I, too, have started a small herb garden in pots (so I can take them in during the winter). I have basil, rosemary, lemon basil, and cilantro. My dill died before I could get it potted. I also have some mint and of course, I have to add in some lavender. I love, love the smell of lavender! My problem is how to use the herbs in cooking having never used these particular flavors before. In our kitchen it was salt, garlic, and black pepper and that was it! So thank you for a recipe using fresh herbs and do pass along any other recipes you have using them. I would love to learn how better to cook with them.
    Susan M.

  3. Someone served an orzo salad once that was similar (I think it had olives, but not cranberries). I've regrets about not getting the recipes ever since. I'll happily give yours a try, thanks!