Nov 14 2011

Weekday Lunch: Orzo with Broccoli Pesto

Some weeks, I sail along in the kitchen, eager to cook, with meals developing easily and inspiration everywhere I look.

Other weeks, I find myself in an inspirational black hole, struggling to contemplate what to cook for dinner or what to buy at the farmers' market.

Snapping out of this funk is critical because a) there's no satisfaction gained from eating a bland meal and b) I want to keep our neighborhood restaurants special, dining there only when I want a fun night out, and not because there's nothing better to eat.

The most recent thief of my cooking motivation is the Fall time change. Darkness by 4:45? Suddenly the time that I used as an afternoon break to motivate myself for working a little more before dinner has become the time I start to get hungry for dinner! My Neanderthal brain is programmed to think that darkness equals dinner… and shortly afterwards, bed. And our kitchen's cave-like environment has left me less than creative in the days following time change.

A new cookbook purchase has helped me snap out of my funk quickly: Super Natural Everyday has renewed my enthusiasm. We own some pretty amazing cookbooks, which we reference and cook from frequently, but until Super Natural Everyday, we didn't have a cookbook completely devoted to healthy, quick, and satisfying meals and snacks.

Heidi Swanson is a natural foods recipe developer and writer living in San Francisco; if you read food blogs regularly, I'm sure her site101 Cookbooks is near the top of your blogroll. Heidi keeps a well-stocked pantry of whole grains, beans, oils, and seasonal foods. She combines ingredients and flavors in a seemingly effortless way. On paper, a dish that looks too simple to be exciting, in actuality tastes nuanced and packed with depth. Since purchasing her latest cookbook, we've tried 5 different recipes, including the cover picture (white beans and cabbage) which I urge you to try as soon as you can!

Several days ago for lunch, I made Heidi's orzo salad with broccoli pesto. I pulled together the lunch in about 25 minutes and a heaping plate satiated my hunger until well into the afternoon. The only negative of this dish is the number of bowls and utensils you end up using. I was hungry when I made lunch (of course) and thus paid little attention to where I stacked bowls and put utensils. After eating and returning to the kitchen to clean up, I realized that I had scattered bowls and discarded food and pots everywhere!

I've never tried broccoli pesto until this recipe. Unlike a traditional pesto, which tastes fairly garlicky, the broccoli was the predominant taste. When I make this again--and I will!--I plan on parboiling the broccoli longer than Heidi asks for. The broccoli still tasted mostly raw in the final dish and I'd have preferred slightly softer pieces.

Orzo Salad with Broccoli Pesto

Recipe Source: Super Natural Everyday (click the link for the actual page from the book)

Serves 3-4


sea salt

255 g orzo

5 cups of raw broccoli, cut into florets & stems

2 peeled cloves of garlic

100 g toasted pine nuts

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan

juice & zest from 1 lemon

1/4 cup of olive oil

1/4 cup of creme fraiche

1 avocado, peeled and sliced


1) Bring a large pot of water to boil. Salt and then add the orzo. Cook according to package directions (10-15 minutes) before draining. Rinse with cold water and set aside.

2) While the orzo is cooking, cook the broccoli. *My addition*: Bring 1 cup of water to boil. Add salt and stir in the broccoli. Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes. You don't want the broccoli to be completely cooked. Drain the broccoli in a strainer and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Set aside.

3) Make the pesto: Combine 200 g of cooked broccoli, the garlic, most of the pine nuts, the Parmesan, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice in a food processors. Drizzle in the olive oil and creme fraiche and then pulse until smooth.

4) To serve, toss the orzo and remaining broccoli together. Mix in 2/3 of the pesto and the lemon zest. Season with salt and add more pesto if necessary. Fold in the cut avocado. Top with the remaining pine nuts.