This recipe came about as I played around with pasta salad recipes. Matt had held for years that he did not like pasta salad, but was converted when the only side dish that remotely looked good to him (as a non-fruit eater) at a local bodega Eola General was a pasta salad. So, after many years of not making pasta salad, I start making all different types. My favorite are creamy, as I grew up eating boxed Caesar salad dressing based pasta salads. But this take on a pasta salad is much lighter for when you want something that won’t weigh you down or overpower other flavors in a meal.
What makes this pasta salad different from most is that I like to cook the veggies to bring out their sweetness. Typically, pasta salads are made with raw veg. By slightly cooking the snow peas, you can have a crisp but soft texture no matter if the peas are young or starting to mature. And as for the carrots, cooking them until they start to brown slightly helps to bring out their sweetness no matter if they are grocery store or farmers market carrots; cooking the carrot also allows you to have a more substantial piece of carrot that in its raw form would be a very hard element in a pasta salad. It also takes the punch away from the shallots and brings out their sweetness.
Carrot and Pea Orzo Salad
12-16 oz Orzo Pasta*
2 c Chopped Snow Peas (strings removed if desired and chopped into pieces)
2 c Chopped Carrots (chopped into similar size pieces to the peas)
½ c Minced Shallot (about 3-5 depending on size)
2-4 Garlic Cloves (grated on a micro plane or finely minced)
2 Lemons (Zest reserved before juicing)
1/3-1/2 c Olive Oil (plus more for cooking)
1 tsp Dijon Mustard
2-3 Green Onion
1/4-1/2 tsp Salt (plus more for cooking)
Suggested Additions – 3-4 Tbsp Nutritional Yeast, 3-4 Tbsp Parmesan (we use Follow Your Heart), Capers to taste, or for more sweetness blanched shelled English Peas
*Depending on your desired ratio or Orzo to vegetables, you can adjust the amount of pasta used. If you like orzo and want it to be the focus, use the full amount, or if you want the orzo to be in equal portion to the veg, go for only ½-3/4 the box.
Cook the orzo according to package directions. Once done, drain but to not rinse. By not rinsing the remaining starches will help the dressing adhere. Once drained, toss in 1-1.5 tablespoons of olive oil to prevent sticking.
Heat a skillet to medium high heat before adding in 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil.
Once heated, add in the chopped carrot and stir. Add a pinch of salt before adding a splash of water and cover with a lid. Allow the carrots to steam for 3-4 minuets.
Stir carrots, depending on how small you chopped them, they may still be quite hard. If needed, add another splash of water and cover for another 2-3 minutes.
At that point, remove the lid and add in another ½ tablespoon of olive oil, stir to coat. Now is the time to finish the carrots and get a little browning if you desire. It all depends on personal taste if you leave the carrots slightly crunchy or cook them until they have softened. Once to your desired doneness, add the carrots to a mixing bowl with the orzo.
Return the skillet to the heat and add in ½ tbsp olive oil. Once hot, add in the shallots and another pinch of salt. Stir to spread around pan. Then pour the peas on top of the shallot. (If this pasta salad will be stored for a few days, you may want to blanch them instead to ensure they keep their bright green color.) Allow the peas and shallots to cook for about a minute, then stir. Continue cooking a stirring until the shallots had got translucent about another 30 seconds to a minute.
Remove the skillet from the heat and push the peas all to one side of the skillet. Add in another ½ tbsp olive oil in the now open spot. Add in the garlic and cook off the heat, stirring for about 30 seconds to remove any overpowering raw flavor.
Add the skillet content to the mixing bowl and stir.
Then in a small bowl or glass liquid measuring cup combine the 1 tsp mustard with the zest and juice from two lemons. Depending on if you cooked 14 or 16oz of pasta, you would need more oil to coat. Add 1/3-1/2 cup good olive oil to the dressing. Add ½ tsp salt to start and stir. If you are adding nutritional yeast, parmesan, or capers add them now. Then stir well with a small whisk or fork. Taste knowing that it will taste slightly different on the salad. You want it to be a balance between salt and lemon. Adjust the other ingredients as needed.
Add the dressing to the salads and mix well. Top with chopped green onion. Serve at room temperature or chilled from the refrigerator.