Orzo Pasta With Roasted Vegetables

Orzo pasta

It’s the last month of summer and we all should squeeze in every last moment of that lemon drop sunshine–with outdoor baseball games with some chilled brews, cartwheels on the sandy beaches, and lazy Sunday picnics. I have the perfect pasta salad recipe for you to make that will make you the talk of the town; people will be clamoring to get seconds of this delicious melange of complex, but complementing flavors. On top of that, it’s bursting with color and is a gorgeous salad to eat. What’s food without presentational oomph?

Since I grew up in a household that mostly made Chinese food, I rarely had a chance to eat pasta salads as a child. It was foreign, the ultimate “American” dish, yet I never found one that I liked. If I ever did have some, it would be at a friend’s birthday party out of a Ralph’s plastic box, and it would always be cold with lots of pimentos–I hated that. So, I never really gave pasta salads a chance.

However, it wasn’t until I got older (and had a little more income) that I gave my palate some room to blossom and tried the gourmet, farm fresh salads of restaurants like Lemonade in Los Angeles, where even Asian dishes such as soba noodles with kimchi marinated vegetables and toasted peanuts are considered a pasta dish of sorts.

I found a recipe from Ina Garten (that I slightly tweaked) that combines silky orzo pasta, tangy feta cheese, sweet-roasted summer vegetables, fresh herbs, and a hint of smoky toasted pine nuts–all dressed in a lemon vinaigrette. It’s a crowd-pleaser (even your vegetarian friends will be happy) and something I could see myself eating long after a picnic is over (if there are even any leftovers!). Most importantly, the texture of the orzo pasta is what makes this dish special, so don’t try to substitute it with rotini or fusili pasta. And definitely serve it at room temperature–not straight out of the fridge or piping hot–at room temperature.

Adapted from an Ina Garten recipe.

Yields 6 servings.

Ingredients:

1 small eggplant, peeled and 3/4-inch diced
1 red bell pepper, 1-inch diced
1 yellow bell pepper, 1-inch diced
1 red onion, peeled and 1-inch diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 – 3 tbsp good olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound orzo or rice-shaped pasta

For the dressing:
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (3 lemons)
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

To assemble:
4 scallions, minced (white and green parts)
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
8 oz. block of good feta, 1/2-inch diced (not crumbled)
15 fresh basil leaves, cut into julienne

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

2. Toss the eggplant, bell peppers, onion, and garlic with the olive oil, salt, and pepper on a large sheet pan. Roast for 40 minutes, until browned, turning once with a spatula.

3. Meanwhile, cook the orzo in boiling salted water for 7 to 9 minutes, until tender. Drain and transfer to a large serving bowl. Add the roasted vegetables to the pasta, scraping all the liquid and seasonings from the roasting pan into the pasta bowl.

4. For the dressing, mix together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Pour half of the dressing on the pasta and vegetables, mix it together, and then taste it. It’s all relative to taste, so add more if you want more of a citrus flavor. Let cool to room temperature, then add the scallions, pine nuts, feta, and basil. Check the seasonings, and serve at room temperature.

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Tinga – muy bueno restaurante

Los Angeles is the hub for all sorts of Mexican food, from my favorite taco stand, Cactus, in Hollywood, to the famous little taco truck, Taco Arizas, in Echo Park. If there are so many Mexican restaurants in the area, then what makes another taco shop stand out in Los Angeles? And for a narrower focus in this post – what vegetarian options are out there besides a bean and cheese burrito?

tingacorn

Tinga is a restaurant that luckily is able to stand out in a different category – the gourmet Mexican taco for foodies. Tinga opened up a couple of years ago on La Brea Ave. as a small, casual sit-down Mexican restaurant with dishes that were inspired by Julia Child’s favorite restaurant in Santa Barbara – La Super Rica.  Soft homemade tortillas and fresh and local ingredients make noticeable differences for the dishes.  Although a little more costly than your average taco, there is something to be said about the quality of the food that makes it worth it.

People have been willing to shell out the extra dollars for Tinga’s food, as the restaurant has grown in popularity, expanding in the past year and taking over the space next door.  The design of the restaurant has improved as well, with the exposed ceiling with lights draped like a wired chandelier.  A large wooden communal table sits at the entrance of the room with potted plants on it. The newly expanded area has a Mod style with wood paneling and circular mirrors adorning the walls. Dark and intimate, yet good for groups, there is always a healthy dose of indie music filling the room.

The modernity of the restaurant reflects the style of the food, which although is centered on tacos, features an array of other traditional, yet contemporary dishes.  One of the best side dishes Tinga serves up is the Elote Especial – a roasted corn dish reminiscent of the Mexican corn on the cob covered in mayonnaise and spices that are sold off of carts pushed on the streets in the summer.  The sweet corn in this dish, however, it cut off the cob and mixed with a kick of lime, poblano puree, chili, and crema.  Highly addictive and the taste is haunting. Try scooping it up with some housemade chips.

Tinga’s quesadillas are all inspired and innovative, yet keep with the  familiar old-fashioned style. The Mushroom Quesadilla is full of Monterey jack cheese and has a spread of wild mushroom pate. The dish doesn’t lack in hearty servings of avocado, salsa and the housemade crema, complimenting the dish and binding it together full of flavor.

tingaqueso

The restaurant excels in another side dish – Arroz Con Crema – a creamy risotto, that although is a little less complex in flavor from the other dishes, is delicious due to its simplicity. There is a comfort food quality to the rice dish, which is topped with salsa verde, pickled onion, and crumbled cojita cheese.

At a first glance, Tinga’s menu may look like a carnivore’s dream-come-true, but there are a variety of vegetarian items that are all creative and full of flavor.  Grab a Mexican coke or a Dirty Horchata– an horchata with two shots of espresso – to compliment the meals.

Tinga

142 S. La Brea Ave.

Los Angeles, CA 90036

Hours:

Mon. – Thu., Sun. – 12 pm – 9 pm

Fri. – 12 pm – 10 pm

Sat. – 11 am – 10 pm

Price range:

$4.50 – $13.50

Website:

http://www.tingabuena.com/