Monday, May 19, 2014

Sweet and Salty Lettuce Cups

Even though it doesn't feel like summer yet here in New England, next weekend is the unofficial start of the season. Whether you're dusting off your grill, getting together with friends, or just enjoying the day off from work, here's a nice little appetizer to help you enjoy the day. It's a new recipe for me that I made tonight for the first time, and just the dish to get you ready for the hot days ahead. And it's perfect if you're feeding vegetarians.

Orange and Goat Cheese Orzo Lettuce Cups
Inspired by excess oranges and orzo in my pantry

1 cup uncooked orzo
1 T butter
1 T olive oil
1/2 cup onion diced
Kosher salt and pepper
1-3/4 cups water
2 navel oranges supremed
Juice from the 2 oranges
1-2 T capers
3 scallions chopped
1/4 cup raisins (optional)
5 oz goat cheese
Boston lettuce leaves, washed and dried

1 large garlic clove finely minced
Kosher salt
2 lemons juiced
Extra Virgin olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard

Lets cook the orzo first. In medium saucepan on medium/low heat add butter and oil. Add onions, sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper and soften (3-4 minutes) stirring occasionally. You don't want the onions to brown, just soften. Now add the orzo and stir into the onion mixture. You want to toast the pasta- but again, you don't want it to brown. This takes a minute or so. Add a bit more salt at this point, just to add some flavor to the orzo and stir. Add water, increase heat to a low boil, cover, reduce heat to low and cook about 12-13 minutes. Give the orzo a stir and let rest and cool.

While orzo is cooling you can make the dressing. This is a simple lemon/mustard vinaigrette that I use for everything. Finely chop garlic and mix with kosher salt (start with 1/2 tsp). There's a technique that many chef's use to combine the salt and garlic to make make a paste. That's what I do here. I'll try to explain- take the flat side of your chef's knife and press the garlic and salt together on your cutting board in a small sweeping motion. Now chop the mixture with your knife and press (sweep) it again and again until you have somewhat of a paste, chopping every once in a while until you're satisfied with a medium- smooth paste. I don't have enough patience to get it completely smooth. Now add some pepper and place in medium size mixing bowl. Add lemon juice, mustard, olive oil (wish I had an exact amount- I don't, because it's a different amount every time, but I want to say about 1/3 cup). I also like my dressing acidic. My recommendation- taste and adjust the amount of olive oil. Whisk it well and set aside while you assemble the salad.

To cooked, cooled orzo add supremed oranges and their juice, capers, scallions and the creamy goat cheese crumbled. At the last minute I decided to add raisins and I'm glad I did. I'm a raisin lover but I realize not everybody is, so this is obviously an optional ingredient. Add your dressing and toss gently.

Fill lettuce leaves with about 2 tablespoons of this creamy mixture, garnish with parsley, serve and enjoy!

If you're making this salad ahead of time, refrigerate until serving time and squeeze half a lemon over the orzo mixture before plating, just to refresh the salad. I think you'll really like this sweet and salty appetizer. 

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