Some cities are naturally romantic.
Others need a little help.
Twice a month, from May to October, in my hometown, the local winery invites everyone onto the grounds for Jazz on the Lawn. No one can resist the promise of live music under the stars. You’ll find couples stumbling through the vineyard, hand in hand. Groups of friends overlapping their picnic blankets until it looks like they’re sitting on one huge patchwork quilt. Little girls twirling in their sundresses in front of the bandstand.
The night my friend Christina got married, she invited everyone in the bridal party to help round up the leftover food from her reception and keep the party going at Jazz on the Lawn. I asked her how we’d find her and her new husband in that sea of people in the dark. She said, “I’ll be the one in cut-offs and a veil.”
We had a feast that night in the moonlight, but all around us, people were sharing feasts of their own: fruit and cheese plates, crusty loaves of bread, big bowls of grapes and slices of watermelon. Fried chicken and tomato sandwiches. And bottles of wine with names like Sonata, Melody, Harmony and Tempo.
This Mediterranean Orzo Salad reminds me of those nights, because it’s the sort of salad that begs to be taken on a picnic. Three cups of orzo (a rice-shaped pasta) mixed with sweet sun-dried tomatoes, meaty Kalamata olives and toasted pine nuts. It’s delicious, filling, imminently packable, and it seems sophisticated without trying too hard.
Oh, and instead of the garlicky dressing, feta and artichoke hearts you might expect in a Mediterranean salad, this one comes with a simple citrus dressing that brightens the salad without giving you the funkiest breath on the lawn.
When you’re stumbling around in the dark, these things are important.
Mediterranean Orzo Salad
Adapted from Jamie and Bobby Deen’s “The Deen Bros. Get Fired Up”
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts
- 1 cup orzo
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon orange zest
- 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup pitted, sliced Kalamata olives
- 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
- To Toast the Pine Nuts: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place pine nuts on a baking sheet, and toast in the oven for 5 to 8 minutes.
- Cook the orzo according to the package directions. Drain and let cool.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients. Set aside.
- Transfer the orzo to a large bowl. Stir in the olives, sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts. Pour in the citrus dressing, and toss to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.