I pride myself on being a mostly seasonal eater. I try not to buy too many tomatoes in January. I save eating butternut squash until Fall rolls around. I use dried herbs in the cold months and fresh in the summer.
But there are certain foods that I love so much, I just can’t wait until they are in season to dig in. And this lemon orzo is one of them. The truth is, by this time of year, I am so sick of soup and squash and potatoes and beans and all that heavy, comforting, warming food, that all I want is a big batch of something light and fresh—and this lemon orzo dish is where I usually choose to go off the seasonal eating rails.
I’m the first to admit that this dish is so much more delicious (and cheaper!) in July with fresh herbs and fresh tomatoes, but I just can’t help myself right now. I’m jonesin’ for spring, and this big, beautiful bowl of summery pasta is the closest I can get to warm weather. Please forgive me, seasonal food gods.
If you do choose to go rogue with me, I highly recommend splurging for some of the higher quality cherry tomatoes out there. You’re never going to find tomatoes in the grocery store in January that are as delicious as what you can get in July, but a lot of stores are starting to carry more heirloom varieties that have a lot more flavor and color (even in the middle of winter) than the standards. I was able to find this mix of heirloom cherry tomatoes at my regular supermarket, and they are pretty darn good!
And if you don’t want to go rogue with me, save this recipe somewhere, and revisit it in the summer. Because, trust me, you want to make this.
The first time I had an orzo salad like this was this past summer. Right after we came home from the hospital with JuneBug, my Mama brought over a bowlful of this stuff for us to eat for dinner that night (one of many meals she supplied us with during those early days of parenthood). I was on a sleep-deprived, hormonal roller coaster, so the details of those first few weeks were a little foggy, but I do remember thinking the orzo was delicious, and jotting down a note in my recipe idea notebook that said “lemony orzo.”
When I finally came out of my newborn-induced stupor later, I asked Mama for the recipe, and the one she sent me didn’t look anything like the dish I remembered. I’m sure that recipe was delicious, but my whacked-out postpartum brain had “remembered” it as a much different dish. Hormones be crazy, kids. So instead of making the version my Mama sent me, I decided to make up my own version of the recipe I thought I ate. I created this recipe back in late summer, and it’s been a staple for us ever since.
Like most cold pasta salad recipes, this is a great dish for food prepping. The flavor just gets better and better the longer it rests, and it holds up well in the fridge and being tossed around in a food storage container on your commute to work. It’s also incredibly healthy—and a great balance of all kinds of yummy nutrients to fuel your body.
This recipe also makes a nice and hefty amount, perfect for doling out into lunches all week long (if it will last that long—it’s definitely one of those dishes that you sneak into the kitchen in the middle of night and take a spoonful of because you can’t stop thinking about it—not that I’d know or anything).
This recipe has a lot of room for adaptation. While I was off dairy (I’m back on it now—yay!) we left out the feta. You can leave out the shrimp and have a nice and light vegetarian pasta salad. Make it your own!