Market Matters-Orzo Pasta Salad Saves the Day

It’s time for another Market Matters.

However today I am in St. Petersburg, Florida. And my destination is not the Hollywood Farmers Market, but rather what is locally known as “The Saturday Market”. Like all Farmers Markets this one is lively and colorful, though (comparatively speaking) not a whole lot of “farmers”.

But there were some especially nice vendors of tropical fruit. Mango, jackfruit and super colossal Florida avocados were aplenty. I even saw coconuts! Now that’s one thing I have never seen at the Hollywood Farmers Market.

Besides produce there were lots of crafts and some prepared specialty foods as well. I was captivated watching a guy with a sandwich press making some pretty spectacular oozey, crusty Cuban sandwiches. And this being a Gulfside town there was even plenty of good-looking seafood from the area waters.

However, I had been invited to a potluck barbecue that evening. I had been asked to bring a side-dish, substantial enough to serve as a main course to the non-beef-eaters in the crowd. Naturally I wanted it to be special, and as I myself am on a no chew diet due to my broken jaw, I wanted to make something I could eat too. So what I needed was inspiration for a delicious side-dish that was meat-free yet substantial. It needed to be accessible to the mandibly-impaired (me), and its main components had to come from a lovely but smaller than I was used to Farmers Market. In other words just another sunny day at SippitySup!

However, when I arrived at the market I was drawing a blank. Those coconuts really spoke to me. But the only criteria they fulfilled was they were available at this Farmers Market. So I passed.

Just when I began to think the inspiration may elude me on this gorgeous Florida morning. I literally stumbled upon the solution. Because as I rounded the corner distracted by the size of the Florida avocados I nearly fell into a bin of brightly colored pasta. The supplier is called Papparedelle. They do handmade pastas, artisan style.

I certainly know that there are countless shapes of which pasta may be found,. But I had no idea it could come in so many flavors. They even had chocolate pasta is several different shapes. But what really struck me was the chromatic diversity!

Pasta fulfilled so many of my requirements that I made my mind up then and there that pasta would be my side-dish of choice. Because pasta this pretty did not need cow flesh to be substantial. I struggled a bit with my private needs though. I mean there was no way chipotle pepper fettuccine could be considered a no chew food. Just as I was resolved to (yet again) put may labors into food I could not eat, I saw the answer.

Orzo! There were big barrels of orzo. However, this did not appear to be any ordinary ole orzo. This pasta is handmade and dried. It comes in maybe a dozen flavors. Many of the choices were a pre-mixed combination of flavors. I chose the “supreme mix” which consists of saffron, red pepper and porcini flavors.

So there you have it! The only phrase from me was– “a pound and a half please”.  Which rolled off my tongue nicely.

I have to admit, that “pound and a half” seemed kinda pricey. I live in Los Angeles and I am used to paying a pretty penny for excellent quality foods. But $13.00 for a “pound and a half” of pasta did seem steep. Still, it was beautiful, and even in its dry form it was very tasty. So I forked over the cash “happily”… or at least cheerfully.

So my brother Grant and I took that orzo home. We had a quick pow-wow and developed a plan. We developed a recipe we are calling Mediterranean Orzo Salad with White Beans and Calamari. Click here for recipe.

It is a pretty straightforward combination of Mediterranean flavors. The recipe came together quickly. So I thought we were home free. 

I imagined walking in to that barbeque with a colorful, flavorful, sophisticated bit of culinary art. Because, this was a party of my high-school friends and I wanted debunk their memories of my skinny, geeky, metal-mouth high-school self. But of course, I was working at a bit of a disadvantage towards that goal. Because the ordeal of my broken jaw had caused me to shed 20 pounds of what little muscle I had. Plus, with my jaw wired shut it was hard not to think of any better moniker for me today than metal-mouth. All that was missing in completing this sad picture of the retro Greg were a few unfortunately placed zits!

So I was determined to dispel, at the very least, the geek image by arriving with a wildly sophisticated pasta dish. But damn if the world doesn’t throw you one challenge after another because there was a problem with the pasta!

The orzo came in 3 colors and 3 flavors, and you know what? They all required different cooking times. In order to get the saffron properly cooked the red pepper orzo had to be overcooked and the porcini practically disintegrated. To be fair they were still delicious, but eating with your eyes was not an option because this mess was down right ugly!

calamari and orzo saladNow I am no expert in the kitchen, I certainly have my limitations in this department. But I am capable of boiling pasta.

Besides my brother is an expert, and a graduate of the French Culinary Institute. So I have a little trouble believing that it was something we did wrong. I suppose, had we cooked each flavor separately and then combined them in the salad we could have attained perfection. Because, as I said, this pasta was delicious. However, these flavors were pre-mixed and jumbled together. Separating them seems quite silly. Obsessed I may be, crazy I am not.

But lest you worry that the only card I had to play in front of my high-school friends was now lost in a pile of mushy, pasty pasta– never fear! Because DaVinci came to the rescue. A quick trip to the grocery store and my carefully orchestrated image as a jet setting, sophisticated, food-world celebrity seemed destined to remain on track. At least in my own mind. It seems no one else noticed. B ecause all my high-school friends were too busy scarfing down my pasta!




Greg Henry