This salad is my version of an orzo side dish I recently saw (and bought and devoured) at Brooklyn Larder. It marries famously with nearly any preparation of chicken, or with grilled lamb, sausages, or steak. I have taken it to the office for lunch and eaten it straight from the container. It is a make-ahead affair, perfect for travel, potlucks, and picnics. The dressing may be mixed, the raisins plumped, and the hazelnuts toasted the night before. In fact, the whole salad can be made several hours, or even a day or two, before serving. —Cristina Sciarra
Test Kitchen Notes
This dish offers delicious medley of different flavors -- sweet, sour, salty, and smoky -- in the form of orzo pasta salad. It is mixed with a sesame and olive oil vinaigrette (6 tablespoons for me), scallions, chives, toasted hazelnuts, and golden raisins plumped with red wine vinegar, then topped with crumbled goat cheese -- or feta cheese if you prefer. I love that you can prepare it in advance and eat the salad cold or at room temperature. It works as well at home, as it does for work, a potluck, or a picnic. —Regine
red wine vinegar
rice wine vinegar
good olive oil, plus more for coating the orzo
Heat the oven to 350° F. Scatter the hazelnuts across a baking sheet, then put in the oven for 10 minutes. Take them out and allow them to cool, then remove the skins. Leave the nuts whole, or roughly chop them -- however you prefer. Set aside.
Bring the red wine vinegar and 1/2 cup of water to a healthy simmer. Add the raisins and turn down the heat to low. Cover, then cook for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the raisins to sit in the vinegar solution for an additional 20 minutes. Drain the raisins and set them aside.
Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil, then add enough kosher salt to make the water taste like the sea. Add the orzo to the pot and cook until al dente (for me, this was consistently 2 minutes less than the bag recommended). Drain the orzo, transfer to a bowl, and stir in a bit of olive oil -- just enough so that the pasta doesn't stick. Allow the orzo to cool for 20 to 30 minutes.
Make the dressing: Add the lime juice, rice wine vinegar, and champagne vinegar to a small bowl. Whisk in a little pinch of kosher salt. Add the sesame oil and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Whisk the dressing to emulsify the oil, then set aside.
Clean and thinly slice the whites and light greens of the scallions. Mince the chives.
Stir the red pepper flakes into the orzo. Add the hazelnuts, raisins, scallions, and chives. Fold in the dressing. Stir in the sea salt. Using a fork, break up the goat cheese, then crumble it into the bowl and lightly fold to combine. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Author's Note: If you are eating the salad fresh, I think 1/2 cup of dressing is sufficient. I usually save the remaining 1/4 cup for just before serving, especially if I make the salad ahead of time. But add the dressing bit by bit, then stop when it tastes right to you.
Cristina is a writer, cook, and day job real estate developer. She studied literature, holds an MFA in Fiction Writing, and completed the Basic Cuisine course at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. She lives in Jersey City with her husband--a Frenchman she met in Spain--and their sweet black cat, Minou. Follow her writings, recipes, publications and photography at theroamingkitchen.com.