Back in college, I spent one glorious month studying abroad in Florence with my greatest accomplice, Jen. I went with the best of intentions: to master the beautiful Italian language. Turns out, the only thing I mastered was the food. (I promise I'm not complaining!) I spent far more time roaming the farmers markets and sampling gelato than I did in museums or class. And while the other girls in my program were off spending their fathers' hard earned money on Gucci and Prada, I was eating like a queen.
In between epic meals of pera tortelloni and bistecca alla Fiorentina, there were affogatos, pizzette, and plenty of bacio (the ice cream, not the kiss) to spare. But then I started to yearn for something else. After a few too many heavily sauced meals—and a few too many extra pounds—I started to crave something light! One evening, a few of us ladies decided to forgo our usual dinner plans and cook in. We procured wine and cheese and various other local ingredients. And then we feasted. To be honest, the only contribution I remember was a nondescript side: orzo pasta tossed with roasted zucchini and eggplant, a splash of olive oil, and a squeeze of lemon. It was perfection on a plate.
Looking back on my trip, it's funny how that simple pasta salad is one of the first taste memories that comes to mind. Of all the restaurants and all the meals, it's the most basic dish that stuck. Now I recreate that orzo from home all the time, whether it be for lunches, dinners, parties, or potlucks. This recipe is a reflection of that wonderful home cooked dinner in Italy. My version has evolved a bit over the years—just like my taste—and I know it's for the better. I hope you enjoy my little reminder of Florence, too.
Source: Inspired by Italy, recipe adapted from Ina Garten
Yields: Serves 2 for lunch (as entree) or 4 (as side) for dinner
This "recipe" is really just a guideline. Use whatever vegetables you have on hand and adjust the olive oil and vinegar to your liking. (We all know I'm a vinegar fiend, so always more for me!) Don't forget that feta is salty, so add it before you taste for final seasonings.
For the vegetables:
3-4 small yellow squash, diced into 1/2" pieces
1 -2 zucchini, diced into 1/2" pieces
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and diced into 1/2" pieces
1 small red onion, diced into 1/2" pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
For the pasta:
3/4 cup orzo pasta
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons good quality olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
Feta cheese, for serving
For the vegetables: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Toss vegetables including garlic with 1 tablespoon olive oil, and salt & pepper to taste. Roast, stirring once or twice, until vegetables are soft and just beginning to caramelize, about 20 - 30 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the orzo in boiling, salted water, approximately 7-9 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Scrape the roasted vegetables with their pan juices into the pasta. Add vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste. Cover and bring to room temperature before serving, at least one hour. Toss with a generous amount of crumbled feta. Taste and adjust ingredients for personal preference.