Summer is right around the corner and I can hardly contain myself. Over the next few months farm fields in the northeast will yield copious amounts of produce just begging to be made into fresh, delicious meals. I can't wait to rip open my summer recipe file and start making my favorite warm weather foods including green salads, fresh pesto in pasta, roasted tomatoes and rhubarb tarts. When I really think about it, the number of recipes I have that are dedicated to foods available in June, July and August is simply staggering, and I can't wait to share them all with you. This week, during a freakish ninety degree heatwave, I decided to kick-off my warm weather cooking with one of my favorite light summer dinners. This recipe isn't necessarily made with fresh food from the farmer's market, but it is lighter fare made without any of the common heavy ingredients (i.e. cream and gruyere) I usually cook with during the winter season. For this reason, the dish is lighter in taste and weight, making it easier to stomach during the warmer months when I don't want to eat heavy foods.
I first encountered this recipe when I cut it out from an old issue of Self magazine. The original recipe was written by Jennifer Garner, who was on the cover that month. I don't know Jennifer but she seems like a really cool Hollywood mommy, a person I would like to invite over for dinner and a playdate with the kids. Given that she is a cool working mom, and the fact that I see her cooking awesome things with Martha Stewart on a somewhat regular basis, I surmised that her recipe was worth a try. After all, right off the bat I could tell that it was a simple recipe based on quality flavors, perfect for Naptime Chef-ing.
Needless to say, her recipe was an immediate hit with the whole family, although I did have to make some initial adaptations to suit our tastes. The first, and most drastic, change I made to the recipe was switching the main ingredient of shrimp to chicken. I cut out the shrimp due to my extreme aversion to the sea creature. (I will spare you the details regarding why I don't eat it, because, trust me, you really don't want to know.) In any event, my daughter prefers chicken over shrimp as well, so this substitution made the most sense for us. Also, since I usually make this in the spring and summer, I had a lot of fun adapting the seasonings to play with the flavor. Naturally, the fresher the herbs I have on hand, the better the overall flavor of the dish becomes.
Preparing this dish during naptime is quite easy and I recommend doing it if you want to save time in the evening. However, if you don't walk in the door until six-o'clock you'll have no trouble having dinner on the table by six-thirty. The best part about this meal, apart from the simplicity in it's preparation, is the delicious flavor. When we eat it we find that each bite bursts with a rich tomato flavor which is absorbed beautifully by the orzo. The tomatoes are brightened nicely with the fresh herbs and salty feta, giving it a warm salty/sweet taste. I have thought about trying it with different pastas, but I think that might overwhelm the sauce, making it seem more like a spaghetti meal. Best of all, when there are leftovers I eat them cold with a fresh crumbling of feta for lunch the next day. I often feed it this way to my daughter as well, which she loves. I suppose if I knew Jennifer Garner I would call her at this point and say thanks for the great recipe idea. But, since I don't, I will just keep getting excited for the summer cooking ahead.
Naptime Orzo, Tomato and Chicken with Feta - adapted from a recipe by Jennifer Garner
1 c. dry orzo pasta
3 t. olive oil
1 c. onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 c. white wine
1 28 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes, juices reserved
1 t. dried oregano
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 t. Kosher salt
1/4 t. crushed red pepper flakes
1 t. fresh basil, chopped
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into narrow strips
3/4 c. feta cheese
1. In a pot of salted boiling water, cook orzo according to directions. Drain, set aside.
2. In a large, deep skillet heat olive oil. Add onion and garlic, cook until soft and translucent. About 5 minutes.
3. Add white wine, boil off alcohol. About 1 minute.
4. Add tomatoes, without the juices. Break the tomatoes up with a wooden spoon.
5. Then, add reserved tomato juice, oregano, pepper, salt and red pepper.
6. Add chicken strips.
7. Simmer for about 6 minutes, until sauce starts to thicken and chicken is cooked through.
8. When chicken is cooked through, add orzo and mix well with the sauce.
9. Stir in fresh basil.
9. When it is all incorporated finish the dish by mixing in feta and serve.
Naptime Recipe Props: This recipe is perfect for Naptime Chef-ing because it is infinitely flexible. You can substitute shrimp for chicken if you'd like, and you can feel free to play with different herbs to adjust the flavoring. Once, in a pinch, I used diced tomatoes instead of whole-peeled and they worked just as well.
Naptime Stopwatch: This dish takes about 30 minutes to make in it's entirety. During naptime you can either make the whole thing, or at least chop the onions. But it is really a simple skillet meal, so you can prepare it very quickly.
Naptime Reviews: This dish is a big hit with my whole family. The flavors are simple and delicous, which even my daughter appreciates!