Orzo Cucumber Salad

Let’s talk about a basic salad. One that has the very basic formula of vegetable+grain+lemon juice+olive oil+cheese. Are you with me? I worry that you may be bored with something so simple, something I’m confident you have figured out on your own.

Yet I feel the urge to plug for the very basic salad recipe. There’s something so refreshing about the ability to bring together a satisfying and healthy dish that goes only a few steps beyond bagged salad greens and bottled dressing, something I used to use to fill in the blanks of meals and snacks here and there. I much prefer something like this, don’t you?

Take note: this is another recipe with less than 10 ingredients!

Orzo Cucumber Salad
Version inspired by Real Simple Magazine

3-4 ounces cucumber, chopped
~2 ounces another vegetable, like green pepper, chopped
2 ounces Feta/approx. 1/2 Cup, crumbled
3 small scallions, thinly sliced
1.5 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1.5 Tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper

Consider that there are unlimited options for variation here. This other recipe I was considering used sun-dried tomato and red onion. Shallots would work. And if you are fresh out of fresh lemons, champagne or white wine vinegar make sense.

If you're wondering what I am doing with the rest of that sizable green pepper, it is going into this weekend's Super Bowl chili.

If you’re wondering what I am doing with the rest of that sizable green pepper, it is going into this weekend’s Super Bowl chili.


Cook the orzo according to the package directions. Drain; run under cold water to cool and shake well to remove excess water.

Prepare vegetables:
DSC_6603
Aside: as you know, I made a resolution to take prompter action on my task list. One such task was to have the kitchen knives professional sharpened, something we never had done. We have a honing device, like this:
honer
which you’re supposed to use often, and an old electric sharpener kinda like this that never provided satisfactory results. In my singular experience, it is surprisingly easy to find a traveling knife sharpener who picks up the phone, makes an appointment to come to your house at your convenience, and then accepts payment on a per knife basis. Easy peasy.

I have noticed a huge improvement in some cases. For some reason, scallions had been giving me trouble with the duller chef’s knife, and is where I felt a serious difference and ease in making thin slices.
DSC_6604

In a medium bowl, toss the orzo with the cucumber, Feta, scallions, green pepper, lemon juice, oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper.

Mmm feta. Can't I just eat this?

Mmm feta and lemon juice. Can’t I just eat this?


DSC_6611
Enjoy cold or at room temperature.

Love Affair with Zucchini

I could barely contain my excitement when I came across coveted squash blossoms while visiting the Ithaca Farmer’s Market last weekend.

These lovely, edible, light orange flowers of the zucchini plant are a delicacy, for sure, because as far as I know, they are only available for a short time in the summer. There is something special about eating a flower, especially when it has the potential for preparation as a feature in a meal, rather than a garnish.
DSC_5090
I had to wait a day to cook them, so they did wilt a little bit. But I already had ricotta in my fridge, planning ahead for this very time when I would get to stuff the flowers.

Rather appropriately, I also had zucchini itself in my fridge. I added it to a Smitten Kitchen recipe I saw a few weeks ago, “One-Pan Farro with Tomatoes.” I had been dying to make this recipe, mostly because I stinkin’ LOVE farro. (So chewy and yummy…shaped kind of like orzo pasta but with a denser texture, as a grain. Barley is somewhat similar). But also because Deb gave a very useful guide for one-pan cooking, based on her reliable testing. You see, most people (including myself) expect that the grain gets cooked in its own pot, and then the vegetables sauteed separately in second pan. Not her!

Full disclosure: I did use a second pan to saute my zucchini, since I thought it might benefit from a little sear and pre-softening, in case it became soggy when dropped directly into the main pan. I had looked over one of Smitten Kitchen’s other recipes with zucchini first for inspiration. That recipe has the squash ending up in a tart, and it does call for using a saute pan. At least I used that same saute pan for frying the blossom, which made me fairly efficient at minimizing the dishes pile in my sink!

DSC_5088

Squash Blossoms Stuffed with Ricotta

adapted from Gourmet on epicurus
Can be served with your favorite tomato sauce for dipping.

1 Cup ricotta, freshly made is best, and whole-milk is better, but part-skim (I used) is fine
1 large egg yolk
1/4 Cup fresh mint or basil or a combination, finely chopped
2/3 Cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
12 to 16 large zucchini squash blossoms
1/2 Cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/4 Cup chilled seltzer, club soda, or beer
Vegetable oil for frying

Equipment recommended: frying/candy thermometer.

For the filling, stir together ricotta, yolk, herbs, 1/3 cup parmesan, and 1/8 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.

You may end up with extra filling, so feel free to scale it down to match the approximate number of blossoms you have. Yes, I realize that involves using part of an egg yolk–you could cook and eat the rest (why not?). Otherwise, I think that eggs are inexpensive and biodegradable enough that you aren’t being too wasteful if you discard a portion.

I used a combination of fresh spearmint and fresh basil from my garden.

I used a combination of fresh spearmint and fresh basil from my garden.


Carefully open each blossom and fill with ricotta filling, gently twisting end of blossom to enclose filling. I wouldn’t recommend using a spoon. The process will be so much easier if you can get your hands on something with a tapered tip which you can insert into the flower. Some reviewers did use the Ziplock bag-with-a-corner-snipped-off method.
DSC_5100
Whisk together flour, remaining 1/3 cup Parmesan, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and carbonated liquid in a small bowl.
I didn't want to open a new bottle of seltzer to use only a small portion! But opening and using up a beer? That could be arranged.

I didn’t want to open a new bottle of seltzer to use only a small portion! But opening and using up a beer? That could be arranged.


Heat 1/2 inch oil to 375°F in a heavy skillet sized to fit half your blossoms. Meanwhile, dip blossoms in batter to thinly coat.
DSC_5101
Fry coated blossoms in batches, gently turning once, until golden, 1 to 2 minutes total.
DSC_5103
Transfer with tongs to paper towels to drain. (Check the temperature of the oil so it comes back up to 375°F between batches.) Season with salt. Serve alone or with tomato sauce.
DSC_5107

Farro with Summer Garden Vegetables
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1.5 Cups water
3/4 Cup semi-pearled/whole farro
1/2 medium onion
(I used about 3 ounces)
2 cloves garlic
4 ounces grape or cherry tomatoes
4 ounces zucchini
, diced
1 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
Up to 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (to taste)
2 teaspoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Basil leaves, cut in chiffonade, for serving
Grated parmesan cheese, for serving

Place water and farro in a medium saucepan to presoak while you prepare the other ingredients.

Add a little olive oil to a saute pan over medium-high heat. Add diced zucchini and cook until slightly softened, about 3 minutes.
DSC_5094
Add to saucepan with farro.

Cut halved onion in half again, and very thinly slice it into quarter-moons. Add to pot with farro. Thinly slice garlic cloves and add to pot.

Halve tomatoes and add.

Fresh from my front-yard garden!

Fresh from my front-yard garden!


DSC_5096
Add salt, pepper flakes (to taste) and 1 tablespoon olive oil to pan.
DSC_5097
Turn on heat to medium-high and set a timer for 30 minutes. Bring UNcovered pan up to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally. Check the farro’s texture after 30 minutes–it should be tender, but will be still chewy, and most of the water should be absorbed. If you let your heat get too high and the water boils off, you may have to add extra liquid.

Transfer to a serving bowl. Drizzle with additional olive oil, basil and parmesan.
DSC_5106

It’s a zucchini + pasta/grain craze! Melissa Clark of the New York Times also used zucchini and tomatoes this week in her recipe.

Having the plant and the flower together!

Having the plant and the flower together!