Toasted Orzo: How To Turn It Into Delicious Salads

​​I'll spare you the history and other razzmatazz about orzo and cut straight to the chase: It tastes really good when toasted. Just spread the little ovals in an even layer on an ungreased baking tray and pop into a 250F oven for about 25 to 30 minutes -- or until it looks like it does in photo. Then cook as you would regular orzo.

The toasted version appears rich, wheaty, and healthy -- plus it's conducive to providing contrast for a mozzarella-tomato-basil salad (photo and recipe follow the jump). More importantly, the taste is, well, toasty -- more complex than regular orzo, with nutty notes. It's sort of like the difference between Wheatina and Cream of Wheat.

Keep going for a Caprese-style toasted orzo salad along with suggested variations.

Toasted Orzo, Tomato, Mozzarella & Basil Salad

So now you've got your cooked, toasted orzo, and no doubt you have thought to drain it well. Next step is to toss the petite pasta pellets with extra virgin olive oil (preferably of respectable quality), salt, and pepper. Add all three a little at a time until it tastes just right. You can wrap tightly and keep in refrigerator overnight.

Slice little grape or cherry tomatoes in half - choose whichever is ripest - and toss these with olive oil, salt and pepper in same manner. The tomatoes can likewise be wrapped well and refrigerated. Make sure, however, that you allow both pasta and tomatoes to come to room temperature before finishing salad and serving.

Cut fresh mozzarella cheese into pieces about the size of the tomato halves. I used this milky, burrata-like mozzarella at Epicure that came in small ovals, then just sliced. Worked perfectly, but any fresh stuff will do.

Before serving: Chop or chiffonade the amount of fresh basil you are comfortable with. Mix in with pasta, then gently add tomatoes (with juice/oil) and cheese. Taste to make sure seasoning is proper and adjust if need be. It's ready to go.

Two Variations:
Mix toasted and regular orzo in a 50-50 ratio, which yields a comely two-tone appearance and lightens the flavor.

In place of basil and mozzarella cheese, make a really simple salad of the toasted orzo, tomatoes, olive oil, and a very healthy dose of chopped parsley. You can put the ingredients together the day before and allow them to meld together overnight.

Third Variation:
Use your imagination.

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