I always try to utilize fresh and in-season ingredients into a dish whenever possible. So the other day I came across big, gorgeous bunches of basil at the grocery store for a good price and I decided to take some home and make a version of a salad I saw on the Barefoot Contessa.
My salad is cheekily called P.O.P. salad for pesto, orzo and peas. It can also be for the pop of garlic flavor, the pop of green from the basil or the pop of the peas as they burst. Either way, it’s delicious!
You will need a food processor or blender to get the right texture. I used a food bowl attachment that came with my blender base. The sauce comes together while the orzo cooks, and because the dish can be served hot, cold or room-temperature you can be eating in as little as 20 minutes. Perfect for a blistering evening, or a night you want to eat something homemade without going to too much trouble (even though it looks like you did!). To make the dish even easier and virtually heat-free, you can toss the peas and pesto with couscous that was made in the microwave.
The ingredients: 2 handfuls of Almonds (or walnuts), 3 Tbs Olive Oil, 1 lb Orzo, 1-1/2 c frozen peas, 3 cups basil leaves, Locatelli cheese, 2 BIG cloves garlic, salt (must be camera-shy) and Ricotta Salada (optional- I had a piece I tossed into the salad so it didn’t go to waste)
Step 1 (offscreen): When your pot of water comes to a boil, sprinkle in a tablespoon of salt (crucial step, otherwise everything will taste bland), then pour in the orzo, stir and wait 12 minutes for it to cook. In the meantime, add the almonds and garlic to the food processor. Chop until the nuts are ground but still have texture.
Step 2: Add half the basil and a generous dash of salt and grind until the basil is chopped. Repeat with the remaining basil.
Step 3: By this point the basil, nuts and garlic need a little more moisture to blends so slowly stream in the olive oil.
Step 4: Drain the orzo, reserving a few tablespoons of the cooking water and add in the peas- no need to cook, the hot pasta will help them along and they’ll keep their bright color.
Step 5: Add 2 Tablespoons of the cooking water to the pesto. This will help loosen the mix without adding additional fat. Grate in a 1/2 c Locatelli cheese.
Step 6: Switch to a bigger bowl, or start with a big one to begin with, and mix, mix, mix until everything is well blended.
Step 7: Enjoy! I served my salad with a simple bacon and cheese fritatta. But, it’s a great compliment to steak, grilled chicken or fish. This salad is a method that can be adapted and adjusted to your liking. You can substitute soybeans for the green peas, the basil can be swapped for spinach or a mix of spinach and basil or even a variety of herbs, although I would stay away from rosemary!