Broccoli Pesto Orzo Salad

A few weeks back we went for a picnic with good friends in town and shared with them the most magical place we’ve found in Bellingham. This little beach is perfect right down to its name – Teddy Bear Cove. A tiny cove facing out toward Bellingham Bay and the San Juan Islands, Teddy Bear Cove offers a little something of everything, reminding us why we chose to move to Bellingham in the first place. There are views, water access, spots to kayak, a short hike, the possibility of finding fresh shellfish, pine forests, and most importantly for some in our family – trains!

We brought along a picnic to enjoy the sheltered beach, digging our toes in crushed seashells while chasing pieces of broccoli around our plate trying to finish every last little bit of this orzo salad. I’ve been working on this salad a while, blending several recipes from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day. I can’t say enough good things about Heidi’s recipes. They really highlight fresh ingredients and bring a bright, clean flavor profile that is reflected all the way through her photos, writing, and outlook. If you aren’t familiar with it, please stop what you’re doing right now and head to 101cookbooks to see what I’m talking about.

On soysugarsherry we often talk about balancing flavors but in my mind balancing textures is just as important. A well designed dish balances creamy/earthy with bright notes/crispness. It doesn’t have to be in equal parts but those few bites that crunch make it all work and come together. In this salad I played around with adding cucumber and almonds to balance the smoothness of pesto, avocado, and the pasta base. I also added salty feta cheese to bring a little more depth and assist the lemon in the hefty lift of rounding out the brocolli.

Tips and Tricks:

  • Make sure you cook the broccoli in boiling water for no longer than a minute or so. Parboiling or flash boiling is a great way to take a little of the raw bite out of fresh produce while maintaining the vibrant green color and crunchy texture. You know you’ve cooked your vegetables for the right amount of time if they crunch slightly but don’t require too much work to chew. We always recommend running your vegetables very briefly under cold water once you take them out of the boiling water in order to stop the cooking process.
  • Feta and lemon zest are our go-to ingredients for adding just a little extra flavor profile – one brings saltiness the other brightness. When in doubt, add some in and see how they improve a dish.
  • Heidi’s original recipe calls for using creme fraiche instead of yogurt; for more bite feel free to substitute the yogurt with creme fraiche, greek yogurt or even sour cream.
  • Always set aside a few handfuls of ingredients in salads so you can sprinkle a handful on top for better presentation.

Broccoli Pesto Orzo Salad

A fresh, easy to throw together salad packed with vegetables that travels well. This is the perfect dish to bring to a picnic or potluck. And our kids love it just as much as we do. Make sure you make good use of any leftover broccoli pesto. This salad is a good base to which you can add any fresh vegetables in season and/or vary based on what you have in your pantry. We find the salad filling enough with just veggies, but we could also see throwing in a few handfuls of whatever protein you having laying around including chicken or shrimp for a more substantial salad.

Quantity: serves 4 – 6 as a full meal, 12 as a side salad

Time to Prepare: 30 minutes

1 1/2 cups orzo
3 cups broccoli cut into small florets and stems
1 clove of peeled garlic
1/2 cup assorted nuts (pine, almond, sunflower)
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
juice of 1/2 a lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
1/2 teaspoon salt

Add to salad
set aside 1 cup cooked broccoli cut into small florets
1/2 cucumber diced into 1/4″ pieces
1 ripe avocado peeled and diced into 1/4″ to 1/2″ pieces
1/2 cup sliced, toasted almonds
1/2 cup feta crumbled
lemon zest from half a lemon

Bring a large sauce pot of water to boil. Add a pinch of salt and add the broccoli to cook. Stir so that all broccoli is submerged. Cook for one minute. Quickly drain and run under  cool water to stop the cooking. Drain and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to boil, add a pinch of salt and a glug of olive oil to the water. Cook orzo for 8 – 9 minutes until al dente. Before pouring out the orzo in a sieve to drain the water, use a liquid measuring cup to take out roughly one cup of water. You can use this starchy pasta water to add to the pasta salad if your pesto is a little on the dry side.

While the orzo is cooking, turn back to the cooked broccoli in order to make the pesto. To make the pesto, combine 1 1/2 cups of cooked broccoli, the garlic, the 1/2 cup of nuts, the parmesan, the salt, and lemon juice in a food processor. You can also use an immersion blender. Drizzle in the olive oil and yogurt and pulse until smooth.

Once the orzo has finished cooking, drain, reserving a cup of water that the pasta was cooked in. Then toss the orzo with about two thirds of the pesto and the lemon zest. Thin with a bit of the warm pasta water if you need to in order to ensure the consistency of your choice. You want the pesto to cling to the orzo but not be too thick. Fold in the remaining 1 1/2 cup of broccoli, cucumber, half the almonds. and feta cheese. Taste for salt/lemon and add more if needed. Then as a final step gently fold in the avocado. Turn into a bowl and top with a small handful of feta and the remaining almonds.

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