Over the weekend, we went to 3 birthday parties.
Not cool adult parties with vintage wine and civilized cheese platters… kid parties.
When I was a kid, birthday parties consisted of a small group of children, usually at our house, with parent supervised games and a Carvel cake. Nowadays, you have to sign waivers just to let your kid play in one of those crazy bouncy houses.
Let’s talk about party food too-
The amount of doughy pizza I consumed this weekend was just ridiculous. In a good way. All that warm sauce and bubbly cheese… Then, of course, there was plenty of dessert to cleanse the palate; ice cream cake, regular cake (adorned with red #5 frosting) and cookie platters.
You know those soft-baked chocolate chip cookies they sell at Costco?
Amongst the copious selection of carbs, I spotted an orzo salad with my name on it, “Shamu!”
My cousin made it for her son’s birthday (hi Maia!) and I haven’t stopped thinking about it ever since (you know it’s good when you can scarf it down out of a red Solo cup).
Her salad was very simple: orzo, tomatoes, feta and mint.
Check out my mint!
All I need is a lime tree and I can have my own personal mojito set-up.
Anyway, to make this salad you need chilled orzo pasta. If it’s too hot, it will wilt the herbs and soften the tomatoes. Luckily, you can make the pasta in advance and just assemble when ready. But if you’re cooking to order, chill the pasta on a plate or tray until it cools down. Toss with a bit of olive oil so that it doesn’t stick.
And while that’s going, chop up some tomatoes and make the salad dressing. I combine Dijon mustard, balsamic, and olive oil in an empty jam jar and shake it up. I love this method because it’s easy and keeps conveniently in the fridge. The mustard acts as an instant thickener too. You’ll have dressing for the rest of the week.
Once your orzo has cooled, toss everything together with lots of thinly sliced mint, basil, and fresh mozzarella. The juices from the tomatoes will drink in all of the lovely, herb flavors. And go heavy on the herbs- it’s the best part. I’m almost finished with my flat of micro basil… (sniff, sniff). This salad travels well and feeds a crowd.
- 1½ cup orzo pasta, uncooked
- 1 lb colorful cherry tomatoes
- 1 rib of celery, with leafy tops
- ¼ cup packed mint leaves
- ¼ cup packed basil leaves
- 2 cups fresh mozzarella balls
- ½ cup ground parmesan cheese
- coarse salt & freshly ground black pepper
- 1 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
- ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
- ¾ cup olive oil
- * You will have extra vinaigrette leftover. Store in the fridge and use for salads during the week.
- Bring a medium-sized pot of water to a boil and add the pasta. Season with a pinch of salt and cook according to the package instructions. Drain in a colander, and spread out onto a large plate or tray. Drizzle with olive oil to prevent sticking. Place in the fridge to cool down.
- Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette. In an empty jam jar, add the mustard, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper. Screw the lid on tight, and give it a shake.
- Slice your cherry tomatoes in half or quarter them if they're large.
- Thinly slice the celery, including the leafy tops if you have any. They will add great flavor to the salad.
- For the mint, stack the leaves (like a pile of paper) and roll them up (like a sleeping bag). Then, slice across into ribbons. Do the same with the basil leaves.
- Grab a large bowl and add your cooled orzo, tomatoes, celery, mint, basil and mozzarella balls.
- Drizzle with some of the vinaigrette and toss well. Taste your salad, and adjust with extra seasoning or vinaigrette, if necessary.
- Sprinkle with parmesan right before serving.