Lemon Orzo Salad and Balsamic Pesto Chicken

I couldn't wait until it was officially summer to make this salad, even though I associate it with barbecue dinners and picnic lunches on hot days under the sun. It's light and fresh and sweet and tangy and salty and creamy, all rolled into one. Definitely not your typical pasta salad since the pasta is almost an after-thought as the orzo is so tiny and is oerfectly overpowered by the vegetables and the salty cheese. I usually cut down on the amount of the oil called for in the dressing since the caramelized onions bring their own oiliness to the salad and the lemon juice just freshens up all the flavours. Even though the recipe makes a huge serving, I make it just for our family without reducing anything because the leftovers make a nice lunch the next day. Ina Garten makes a similar salad with roasted vegetables and it's another one of our favourites.

Another fantastic recipe from Magwood's Dish Entertains is her recipe for balsamic pesto chicken, which we had the following night. I wanted to use up some of my remaining arugula pistachio pesto, so I tossed it with some balsamic vinegar and olive oil (again, easy to reduce the amount), left it to marinate and then popped it in the oven. Really simple and flavourful meal (smelled like a fish-and-chip shop when you walked into the house because of its sweet vinegariness) that also translates well into picnic fare the next day.

Lemon Orzo Salad with Baby Spinach, Feta and Caramelized Onions
from Dish Entertains, Trish Magwood
serves 10 to 12

2 cups orzo
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 red onions, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper, to taste
12 oz feta cheese, cut into small cubes
8 cups loosely packed baby spinach, washed
1/4 cup olive oil
zest and juice of 2 lemons
lightly toasted nuts (optional)

Cook orzo in a pot of boiling salted water. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop cooking. Toss with 1 tbsp of the vegetable oil and set aside.

Heat the remaining vegetable oil in a large frypan over medium-high heat and add the sliced onions. Cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes. Reduce heat, add garlic and continue to cook, for another 15 to 20 minutes, until onions are golden brown. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. Let cool.

In a large bowl, toss orzo with feta, spinach, olive oil, lemon zest and juice, caramelized onions and nuts. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Balsamic Pesto Chicken
from Dish Entertains
serves 6

1/2 cup pesto
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
6 boneless chicken breasts, skin on

Whisk together pesto, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper in large non-aluminum bowl. Add chicken and turn to coat. Marinate, covered and refrigerated, for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place chicken and marinade in a casserole dish and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until juices run clear when chicken is pierced.

Rest of the week

April 19 Austin made dinner: Honey Mustard Mozzarella Chicken

April 20 Lemon orzo salad with grilled tandoori salmon

April 21 Balsamic pesto chicken with roasted zucchini, red peppers and cauliflower