My husband loves Mediterranean food and so do I. I sometimes say his love of dipping bread and pizza crusts in olive oil, his penchant for eating peperoncini straight out of the jar, his preference for his gin to perform as a vehicle for the olives in his martini, and his lunchtime staples of Greek salad and lamb gyros are attributable to his Croatian heritage. But I know better, because who couldn’t love those things and the goodness that is Mediterranean cuisine?
John’s father came to this country after World War II and became a citizen 10 years thereafter. He loved this country with a fierce and loyal passion and assimilated quickly while still maintaining some of his European mannerisms: pouring the last bit of his wine into his soup for example, or greeting everyone he met with a giant hug, a pat on the back, and shake of the hand (in that order).
John inherited many of his personality traits from his father. Among them are warmth and conviviality and a fondness for breaking bread with friends and comrades in arms. For John’s 40th birthday, for example, I threw him “A Big, Fat, Greek Birthday” (riffing off the popular Greek wedding romantic comedy at the time) and braised lamb shanks for 21 guests! Yes, each guest got their own shank, served with a lovely Mediterranean lentil salad brought by a friend, a braised carrot dish with cumin and orange juice, and orzo with feta. Our downstairs auxiliary refrigerator was filled to the brim with those raw shanks. Looked like a scene from some Mob movie.
Recently John made a special request for me to please, pretty please try to recreate the Meatballs in Egg-Lemon Sauce that he is crazy about from the Greek Deli & Catering carryout in downtown D.C. This place has a fanatical following because the food is authentic and crazy delicious. John and his co-workers often stand in a very long queue on Wednesdays for Kostas’ (the owner’s) famous lemon meatballs (Youvarlakia me Avgolemono in Greek.)
I obliged and also made Greek Orzo with Feta and Grape Tomatoes to go with them and it’s this recipe I share with you today. What! Where is the lemon meatball recipe you ask? Two reasons it is not here: 1) I mussed and fussed with the recipe as written and took some notes that need further testing and refining (getting the uncooked rice in the meatball mixture to bloom properly in the braising liquid in the amount of time called for in the recipe and 2) meatballs are just not that pretty on the plate. Wait, there’s a third reason! I want you to try this orzo recipe. It is much easier and guaranteed to please and I don’t want any of you to work too hard on Memorial Day.
Throw this delicious pasta dish together with the vegetables you crave and kick back with your family, go your neighborhood parade if you wish, and then come home and take a nap.
Here’s the original: Impress Your Mother in Law Orzo Salad
- 1/3 box (pound) orzo, cooked al dente
- 1 pint grape tomatoes
- 4 T. olive oil
- 2 T. minced or crushed garlic
- 2 T. chopped green onions, white and green parts
- 1/4 cup chopped green olives with pimentos
- 1/2 pound feta cheese, crumbled
- 3 T. chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1 batch of lemon vinaigrette (recipe below, makes more than you need for the pasta)
(This will make more than you need. Save the rest in a jar in your refrigerator and use to dress blanched green beans later in the week.)
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- 2 tsp. minced garlic
- 1 T. minced green onion
- 1 T. dijon mustard
- 1 T. dried oregano (fresh minced oregano is best, but dried will work in a pinch as long as you let it macerate in the acid in the dressing for several minutes or longer)
- 1 T. dried marjoram (macerate as above)
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (pick a Greek one!)
- fresh ground black pepper to taste
- Boil the orzo for 9 minutes, drain and place in large bowl.
- Slice the tomatoes in half and layer them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with 3 T. olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast at 300 for about 20 minutes. (Crematia calls for an hour, but I took them out early because we were ready to eat! They were just slightly shriveled and had released their juices so I poured the warm tomatoes into the orzo mixture.)
- While orzo is still warm, toss in the feta and the remaining 1 T. olive oil so it can melt a little.
- Whisk together the vinaigrette and let it marry in the bowl.
- Add the chopped green onion, the chopped olives, the warm tomatoes and their juices to the orzo mixture.
- Drizzle 3 T. of vinaigrette over the orzo and toss. Taste. Add more vinaigrette if your taste buds tell you to.
- Sprinkle chopped parsley over all.