Lately, I’ve seen orzo showing up on the Acadiana table of folks who didn’t even know it existed a few years ago. Cajun and Creole home cooks are a stubborn bunch who hold to tradition more so than most cultures. But, this ingredient has made the grade for several easily explained reasons.
First, it’s easy to cook. Orzo cooks quickly (less than 10 minutes) in salted boiling water. And it’s versatile. It’s great in soups, or in a salad as I’ve done. I’ve even heard that it is a great substitute for Arborio in a risotto. And that leads me to the final, and most important, reason that South Louisiana has embraced orzo; it’s a lot like rice.
Acadiana is rice country and it shows up on the Cajun Creole dinner table more than most any other single ingredient. Orzo mimics the shape and texture of rice, but has a taste profile that is an interesting twist to the tried and true.
Orzo is Italian for the word barley, but truth be told, it is not a grain at all. It is pasta and might explain its ability to pick up flavors and hold on to other ingredients so well. In fact, in my recipe today I am dressing this orzo salad with a combination of quality extra virgin olive oil (the good stuff) along with freshly squeezed lemon juice. The orzo picks up that combination of flavors with astonishing results. Adding fresh kale and Louisiana shrimp makes this orzo dish a light and healthy lunch.
For all my traditional long-grain white rice fans out there, not to worry. I can assure you that orzo pasta is not going to show up covered in gravy anytime soon. Rice is the king of all crops in Acadiana and will reign supreme for generations to come. But, give this little foreign newcomer a try and you might be surprised. It just may find a place on your Acadiana table.
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 dozen fresh mushrooms, thinly slices
- Pinch of kosher salt
- Water, for boiling
- ½ cup table salt
- 1 bunch green asparagus spears
- Ice water, to stop cooking
- 2 dozen large raw Louisiana shrimp, peeled
- 1 (12-ounce) package orzo pasta
- 2 cups firmly packed chopped kale
- 1 cup firmly packed spinach leaves, stems removed
- 1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1 cup red cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 cup yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 cup slivered almonds
- 2 fresh lemons
- Freshly ground black pepper
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the mushrooms and sauté until browned, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle lightly with salt and move to a platter. Cover and refrigerate.
- In a large pot filled halfway with water over high heat, add the salt. Bring to a boil and add the asparagus. Cook until just blanched, about 4 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the asparagus and plunge immediately into a bath of ice water. Once cooled, snap off the woody ends and cut the remaining spears into bite-sized pieces. Cover and refrigerate.
- In the same pot of salted water, bring to a boil and add the raw shrimp. Turn the fire off and cook until the shrimp begin to turn pink and the largest shrimp is done, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the shrimp and drain on paper towels. Let cool.
- In the same pot of salted water, add the package of orzo. Bring to a boil and cook to package directions. Once cooked, pour the orzo into a colander and let drain. Add the orzo to a large mixing bowl and coat lightly with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Cover the bowl and refrigerate.
- For assembly, remove the mixing bowl of orzo and add the asparagus. Add the kale, spinach, parsley, tomatoes, and almonds. Take one lemon and grate the zest into the salad mixture. Squeeze the lemon juice into the salad being careful to remove any seeds. With the other lemon, slice and remove each end. With a sharp knife, very thinly slice the lemon into rounds. Add the lemon rounds to the salad. Season the salad mixture with salt and pepper to taste. Toss to incorporate all ingredients, cover and refrigerate.
- For serving, toss the salad once again and portion the mixture onto salad plates. Add the shrimp to each plate. Make sure to include all of the key ingredients on each serving.
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