Orzo stars in a pair of spinach salads

Orzo stars in a pair of spinach salads

April 18th, 2012 Jane Henegar in Life Entertainment

Good morning, good readers. This morning, we are hot on four trails: for a strawberry cake from Southern Lady magazine, a low-sugar baked oatmeal that may be made ahead and two recipes with Russian in their names: Russian mushrooms and Russian cream, the latter a dessert.

The sender of the first request, P.L.G., had high praise for the recipes from Southern Lady magazine and would like to broaden that request to include any recipe that any of you have found in that magazine, tried and approved.

Orzo came to the fore today. William Corbin explained that it's "a pasta composed of particles about the size of grains of rice. A similar pasta would be semini di melo. Either one might be available at a large Kroger or Bi-Lo store. It probably would be near the normal rice of past display areas. A store specializing in Italian foods and ingredients would have either. If you can't find it, ask the store manager to find it."

Marguerite McCammon found a recipe that "sounds so good, I'm heading immediately to the store to look for orzo. This recipe combines all my favorite tastes and textures."

Lemon Orzo Salad With Asparagus, Spinach and Feta Cheese

1 cup orzo pasta

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

8 asparagus spears, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 cup packed fresh spinach

Juice of 1 large lemon

Salt and pepper, to taste

1/3 cup feta cheese

In a medium saucepan, bring 4 cups water to a boil, adding salt, to taste. Stir in orzo. Cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain orzo and set side.

In a small saucepan, sauté garlic in olive oil. Add in asparagus pieces. Sauté for 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in spinach. Cook until asparagus is tender and the spinach shrinks down.

Put orzo in a medium bowl and add vegetables. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over orzo and vegetables. Stir and then season with salt and pepper. Taste and then add more lemon juice, if desired. Sprinkle feta cheese over top of salad. Serve warm or cold, according to your taste.

And here is a second recipe from the same Exchanger.

Spinach and Orzo Salad With Cranberries and Almonds

1 cup whole-wheat or regular orzo, uncooked

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds (see note)

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

1 to 2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons minced onion

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1/2 cup cider vinegar

1/3 to 1/2 cup grapeseed, canola or olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

3/4 cup toasted sliced almonds

3/4 of a 6-ounce bag baby spinach, sliced thin

3/4 cup dried cranberries

4 ounces gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

Cook orzo according to instructions on package, set aside to cool.

In bowl, whisk together sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sugar, onion, paprika, vinegar, oil and pinches of salt and pepper. This will make a lot of dressing; save some for later.

In a large salad bowl, combine orzo, almonds, spinach and cranberries. Gently toss ingredients with 1/3 to 1/2 of the dressing, depending on your taste. Add gorgonzola, and gently toss again. Serve immediately at room temperature or slightly chilled.

Note: Toast sesame seeds in a nonstick skillet over medium heat for about 5 minutes, watching carefully.

A discussion has begun among Fare Exchangers about slow food and the wonderful local farms where we can buy fresh produce. Chyela Rowe has begun a food blog on the Signal Mountain Farm site, http://signalmountainfarm.blogspot.com. Mrs. Rowe is an artist and a cook, among other things, and one recipe looks easy as well as visually pleasing on the blog.

By the way, several times of late we have mentioned local bloggers and what they are writing. Please share your favorites, particularly those of area cooks.

Mrs. Rowe reported that this recipe for caramelized onions "is one of my favorite staples. Caramelizing onions is simple, but does require a bit of patience. A large pan of onions can take up to an hour to finish. The longer you cook them, the more natural sugars emerge from the onions. So you can cook them for 7 to 10 minutes, or until they just begin to brown, and they will retain most of the nutrition. If you cook them until they are completely soft and brown, they will obviously be more like desert. One medium-size onion will provide a serving as side dish or relish."

To really tempt your taste buds, let me tell you that there is a toasted garlic drizzling oil you wouldn't want to miss, if you love garlic. But for now, the onions.

Caramelized Onions

4 medium yellow or sweet onions

1/4 cup canola oil (or butter plus a little oil if you are feeling decadent)

Pinch of salt

Splash of white balsamic vinegar (optional)

Remove the root and top ends of the onions, then peel. Cut in half lengthwise. With cut side down, slice into thin strips or wedges. Add oil and onions to a heavy-bottom skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, on medium-low heat. Using a simmer burner makes it less likely to get too hot and scorch the onions. Add the salt once the onions begin to soften slightly. Cook gently until the onions brown or until done to your desired taste. Add a splash of white balsamic vinegar, and cook for one minute more. Remove from heat, and let rest for a few minutes. Serve warm or chilled.

Gwendolyn Meraz sent this one from her mother's collection, having read about a flourless cake in a magazine article. She says it fits its name.

Chocolate Decadence

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water (5 ounces)

6 ounces sugar

7 ounces unsweetened chocolate

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate

9 ounces butter (2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons), cubed

3 ounces sugar

6 eggs

Heavily grease with butter, and line with parchment paper, a 10-inch cake pan.

Heat oven to 300 F. Bring water and 6 ounces sugar to a boil. Remove from heat. Add both chocolates, and stir with a wire whisk until smooth. Add butter, and stir until completely melted (if butter doesn't melt, put on medium heat and stir constantly until it melts).

In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix 3 ounces sugar and eggs together for 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. If you want a denser cake, beat for less time.

Pour egg foam into a large bowl, then add chocolate mixture and fold together. Overmixing here is OK.

Pour into cake pan and place on a sheet pan. Place in oven, then add water to the sheet pan. Bake about 20 to 30 minutes, until it is set like a custard.

Cool, then freeze in the mold with parchment on top. To unmold, place bottom of pan into hot water for 5 seconds, then invert.

Having had our just dessert, fellow cooks, shall we meet again? Let's.

To Reach Us

Fare Exchange is a longtime meeting place for people who love to cook and love to eat. We welcome both your recipes and your requests. Be sure to include precise instructions for every recipe you send.

• Mailing address: Jane Henegar, 913 Mount Olive Road, Lookout Mountain, GA 30750.

• E-mail: janehenegar@gmail.com.

• Fax: 423-668-5092.