Out-of-town company is a precious thing, and there’s no sense wasting it in elaborate meal preparations that keep your head in a cookbook and your focus on the stove rather than conversation. Much better are simple dishes that demand little attention, the kind that encourage distraction, loud laughing, and stepping away from the counter to grab another drink. They’re socializing gold.
Take this Saturday, 7pm: There were eight of us, one in from Boston and two in from Ireland, and we’d just come in from an afternoon of lakeside strolling and patio drinks. We had no meal prep beyond meat defrosting on the counter, but everyone chipped in and by 8pm, we were sitting down to a spread of barbequed steaks and vegetables, a bulked-up barley version of the mango blueberry salad, a plate of garlic bread, a huge bowl of grilled zucchini salad, a pitcher of mojitos, and this classic: summer orzo salad with fresh tomatoes and roasted bell peppers.
This salad’s one of the first recipes I made on my own, and it’s been a key player in my summer eating ever since. It only demands two things: good tomatoes and a temperature that’s cool enough to put the oven on. Leftovers make a great one-dish dinner when the humidity kills your appetite and you want something light, fresh and cold.
Summer Orzo Salad with Tomatoes & Roasted Bell Peppers
1 red onion, finely sliced
2 red bell peppers, cut into thick slices
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 1/3 cup raw orzo pasta
2 large tomatoes, chopped (or equivalent amount of cherry tomatoes, halved)
10 basil leaves, torn
3 generous handfuls of arugula or spinach
4 tbsp olive oil
1. In a casserole dish, combine the onion, bell peppers, vinegar and sugar. Sprinkle with a bit of salt. Cover the dish with aluminium foil, and bake in the oven for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Discard the foil and allow the vegetables to cool.
2. Cook the orzo in boiling salted water until cooked to taste. Drain and place in a large serving bowl. Add roasted vegetables and remaining ingredients. Toss gently and serve.