I was walking through Whole Foods today with absolutely no idea what I wanted to blog about this week. Then, in front of me, appeared a massive display asparagus. Not just any asparagus…local asparagus. That’s when you know it’s officially spring…when the local produce starts popping up all around you. Then right next to it I saw some fresh peas, so I knew I had to make something bright, fresh, and spring inspired. In addition to the asparagus and peas, I decided to add a mediterranean twist by adding sun-dried tomatoes, feta, whole wheat orzo and another springtime favorite, artichokes (although I have to admit I used canned ones). Even though it was a spur of the moment, not-so-planned out recipe, it turned out to be incredibly flavorful, beautiful, and satisfying.
This type of dish is so versatile. It can stand along as a lunch or dinner, it can be served cold as a pasta salad or hot as a pasta, or it can be used as a side dish to fish (the the salmon I had below) or chicken. The process was pretty simple too. I just quickly cooked the orzo and blanched the asparagus and peas (a step you could skip but it really helps preserve that bright green color). Then I sauteed some olive oil and garlic, and added the sundried tomatoes, peppers, artichoke hearts, asparagus and peas one at a time and let it all simmer in some chicken broth and lemon juice. Then I finished it off with salt, pepper, feta cheese and an assortment of fresh herbs. Trust me, you want to eat this.
Nutritional Highlights: You might wonder why I think local produce is so darn great. Well there are a few reasons. Not only do you support the local farms, but you’re also ensuring that your food doesn’t have to travel around the world three times before it gets to you, ensuring that it’s at it’s peak freshness and therefore it’s peak nutritional value. I’m going to highlight the asparagus because it had a starring role in this dish. It has many anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, tons of vitamin K, C, E and plenty of fiber. Combined with whole wheat pasta and tons of other vegetables, this meal or side is incredibly healthy and will help you get ready to pull out the spring and summer wardrobes again!
Springtime Mediterranean Orzo
- 1 cup dried whole wheat orzo
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup sundried tomatoes in olive oil, roughly chopped
- 1/2 bunch of asparagus, stems removed and cut into 2 inch pieces
- 1 yellow pepper, cut into 2 inch slices
- 1 can of artichoke hearts, drained and quartered (frozen are fine too)
- 1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- juice from 1/2 lemon
- salt and pepper to taste
- 4 oz low fat feta cheese, cubed or crumbled
- A variety of fresh herbs: I used parsley, thyme, and chives (you can use any herbs you like, but I think these especially paired well with the spring vegetables and the lemony flavor).
Directions: Cook the orzo according to the directions on the box and set aside. Meanwhile, blanch the asparagus and peas by bringing a small pot of water to a simmer, dropping in the vegetables for 2 minutes, and then running under cold water or submerge in an ice bath to bring out the bright green color. Set the green vegetables and the orzo aside
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the yellow pepper and cook for 1 minute, then add the sundried tomatoes and cook for 1 minute, then the artichokes for 1 minute and then the blanched peas and asparagus. Add the chicken broth, orzo, lemon juice, and plenty of salt and pepper and allow to simmer for about 3 minutes to bring all the flavors together. Remove from the heat and add the feta and fresh herbs and additional salt and pepper. Enjoy as a stand alone or as a pairing to fish or chicken. Happy spring