By all accounts my grandmother Harriet was a remarkable woman. She could recite the Lord's prayer in her sleep, crochet a baby blanket with one hand, and play poker for hours on end. She also wholeheartedly embraced her community, delivering meals to housebound elderly from the trunk of her Ford Thunderbird, regularly being issued speeding tickets along her route. In short, she was a woman of contradictions and we loved her for it. Many people attributed her near-century of volunteer activity and good health to "solid genes" and a healthy joie de vivre, but I am pretty sure her secret was eating artichokes.
Artichokes are often referred to as the "nutritional powerhouse" of vegetables and, given Harriet's long life, I wonder if she was on to something. She preferred artichokes over every other vegetable, consuming one daily and serving them to us whenever we visited. She favored eating them boiled until soft, except in the warm weather when we all wanted relief from hot foods. In the summer Harriet would dream up new ways to serve us her favorite veggie, often incorporating them into green salads, serving them cold alongside grilled chicken and adding them to quiches. Her imagination served her well and all of her meals were delicious, but, above all, my favorite was her "famous" artichoke heart pasta salad. Unfortunately, though she made this salad for me dozens of times, she never wrote down the recipe, so last summer I had to rely on my memories to write a new one.
My goal in recreating this dish was to make a salad that replicated hers in both texture and flavor, and was able to last in the fridge without getting gummy. I tried a few different combination's of pasta shapes and vinegars until, at the end of last summer, I managed to create a flavor medley that evoked the memories of my grandmother's version. The taste of my final recipe differs slightly from the original. It maintains the core flavors of artichoke hearts and sweet tomatoes wrapped in a tangy vinaigrette, but I revised her formula by adding toasted pine nuts for crunch, as well as some lemon juice to crank up the flavor. I also chose to use orzo instead of fusilli because I find that orzo is less starchy and holds up better when chilled. Since completing this Naptime Chef recipe challenge I have made this salad at least a dozen times. In doing so I discovered that, in addition being great to serve my family, it is a tasty side dish to serve at luncheons and makes a nice addition to any buffet table. Everyone who has eaten it raves about the taste, including my husband and daughter. I have to admit, I was initially surprised that my daughter liked artichoke hearts, until I realized I hadn't considered her artichoke-obsessed lineage. I mean, after all, she is Harriet's great-granddaughter, and that explains it all.
Naptime Orzo with Artichoke Hearts and Tomatoes - inspired by my grandmother
1 1/2 c. orzo
4 T. pine nuts, toasted
1 10oz. package of frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
1/3 c. olive oil
4 T. red-wine vinegar
Handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
Zest of one lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt & Pepper to taste
1. Cook orzo in a pot of salted boiling water accordingy to package directions.
2. Whisk together olive oil, vinegar and lemon zest in a bowl, set aside.
3. Toast the pine nuts, be careful not to let them burn.
4. Halve the cherry tomatoes and set aside in a separate bowl.
5. Take the thawed artichoke hearts and cut them into quarters. You can add as many, or as little, of the artichoke hearts to the salad as you like to suit your tastes.
6. Once the orzo is cooked, drain it and put in a large bowl.
7. First, add the artichoke hearts and pine nuts and mix it around. Then, add the tomatoes and give the salad another few stirs.
8. Pour over the vinaigrette and gently mix it in until fully incorporated.
9. Finally, add the lemon juice and mix it into the salad.
10. Add salt & pepper to taste. Can be served warm or cold.
Naptime Recipe Props: Like all good salads this recipe is flexible, you could add more, or less, of any ingredient you choose. I have also toyed with the idea of adding roasted cherry tomatoes to see if I would enjoy a richer tomato flavor. I plan to try this over the summer and will let you know.
Naptime Stopwatch: This salad takes about 35-40 minutes to prepare from start to finish. It is the perfect dish to prepare during naptime, this allows the pasta to cool before you serve it for dinner. Naptime Reviews: My whole family adores this salad, especially my daughter and husband. I have also served it at luncheons to great reviews, it travels well and is a great accompaniment to any buffet.