This is a different kind of salad in the best sense of the word. First of all, orzo and radicchio are not the most common ingredients in the world. (The check-out guy at the grocery store actually picked up the head of radicchio and asked me, "what is this little dude"?) Orzo is a rice-shaped pasta that acts as the neutral binder for all the other big flavors in this salad - slightly bitter and crunchy radicchio and arugula, salty feta, toasty pine nuts, sweet tomatoes, and spicy radishes. A tart lemon dressing is the finishing fresh touch.
The salad is hearty enough to be a meal on its own if you're looking for a vegetarian entrée (The Lawyer actually mentioned that and I agree). Or, its bold flavors stand up very well to any kind of grilled meat - burgers, chicken, steak or ribs are a perfect match. Plus, the salad is served at room temperature so it's ideal for picnics or any other summer gathering and can easily be doubled for larger gatherings. As I'm writing this I'm thinking of my friend Karrine, who entertains almost every weekend all summer at her lake home. Hi Karrine - try it out and let me know what you think! It has lots of delicious veggies so it's very healthy also.
So, about radicchio - you'll find it near the cabbages in the produce aisle. As I mentioned, it's crunchy and slightly bitter, which I really like. If you want to mellow the bitterness a little and add some smoky flavor at the same time, you can grill the radicchio prior to chopping it for the salad. It's really easy - just cut the radicchio into wedges (through the core so the leaves stay attached), brush with a little olive oil, and grill on the cut sides until grill marks appear.
|Before grilling, brushed with olive oil|
About the greens in the salad - they're not THE main component as in a lettuce salad, but they're one of the three main components including radicchio and orzo. You can use either arugula or spinach. I actually found a bag of mixed baby spinach and arugula at the store that worked perfectly.
With all the bold flavors this is definitely a big boy/big girl salad. If you have munchkins they probably won't like it unless they have pretty sophisticated palates. Of course, I've seen kids at sushi restaurants chowing down on raw fish, so what do I know? Make it even if they won't like it. I mean, really. Parents shouldn't have to be relegated to a steady diet of mac and cheese and hot dogs just because they have kids. Give them some jello or something while you eat your nice salad. I'm just sayin'.
Orzo and Radicchio Salad
Note: the salad can be made 2 hours ahead and kept at room temperature. Leftovers may be chilled, but for entertaining purposes the salad is best when fresh and not refrigerated.
8 ounces orzo
¼ cup olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely minced
½ small head radicchio
1/3 cup roasted tomatoes (or ¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes), chopped
4-5 radishes, thin sliced
4 cups baby arugula or spinach, coarsely chopped
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook orzo according to directions; drain well. While the orzo is cooking, whisk together the ¼ cup lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper in a large bowl. Add the hot orzo to the dressing and toss. Let orzo come to room temperature, stirring occasionally.
The radicchio may be cored and coarsely chopped fresh, or it may be grilled prior to coring and chopping. If you choose to grill the radicchio, cut the half head into two pieces through the core and lightly brush with olive oil on both cut sides. Grill over medium heat for a minute or two on each of the cut sides, just long enough to wilt slightly and produce grill marks. Core and chop.
When the orzo has cooled to room temperature, add all the remaining ingredients except the feta cheese and toss well. Add the feta and toss gently to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Serve at room temperature with lemon wedges to squeeze over the salad.