Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Chicken Spinach Orzo Salad

Have you ever found a local special food store that you love to visit and inspires you each time you go in?  Last year my father introduced me to a small store in Pasadena that specialized in California olive oils appropriately named Beyond the Olive. In addition to olive oil they also carry some amazing balsamic vinegars, salts, dips, pesto sauces and tapenades and of course olives.  When you walk into the store you are greeted warmly and they are always happy to help you.  You may taste all the products and they are always willing to share ideas and recipes with you.  If you live locally it is worth a visit.  Go in, relax, taste the products and get inspired.  The nice thing about this store is that if you would like to take home just a small amount of some of the oils or vinegars you can do that because they have small sampler bottles for only $4 each for many of their products.

On my last visit I found a beautiful raspberry basil vinegar that I knew I had to have.  I knew it would be perfect on a salad but the question was what salad would be first.  The answer, something with spinach and fruit but filling enough for a teenage boy.  I have to say, I think we have a winner. 

Note:  Beyond the olive has online ordering and will ship their products to you if you don't live locally or can't make it into the store.  If you are unable to find a raspberry vinegar I have provided a recipe below so you can make it at home.

Chicken Spinach Orzo Salad

1 pound dry orzo
3 cups shredded cooked chicken breasts (about 2 breast halves)
2 cups packed baby spinach leaves, washed roughly chopped
1 cup Craisins
1/2 cup good quality olive oil
1/3 cup raspberry basil vinegar (raspberry vinegar or raspberry champagne vinegar will work also)
1 glove garlic, minced
Sea salt & fresh cracked pepper

In a bottle or jar combine the olive oil, vinegar and garlic.  Shake with lid on or whisk together and aside while preparing the salad.

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil, add about 1/2 tsp. salt and dry orzo, stir.  Cook for about 9 -11 minutes until pasta is "al dente" (firm but not hard) and pour into a colander to drain. Run colander with orzo under cool water to stop the cooking and cool pasta quickly.  Allow to drain completely.

In a large salad bowl combine the orzo, spinach, chicken and Craisins.  Slowly pour half of the dressing over the salad and toss to combine well.  Slowly pour the remaining dressing over the salad and toss again to combine.  Season with sea salt and pepper to taste.  Allow salad to set for at least 15 minutes before serving to allow flavors to meld.

Serve chilled.

Raspberry Basil Vinegar

2 cups white balsamic or white wine vinegar
large handful raspberries, washed and dried
large handful sweet basil, washed with stems removed and roughly chopped

In a glass bowl, jar or measuring cup warm the vinegar in the microwave until slightly warmed.  In a glass container that is air tight when sealed place the raspberries and basil.  Pour warm vinegar over the raspberries and basil.  Seal container and place it in a dark cool place (do not refrigerate) for 1 month.  Do not open container during this time.  After one month strain out the solids by pouring the infused vinegar through a mesh strainer lined with cheese cloth.  Clean container.  Pour strained vinegar back into cleaned airtight container.  Store in cool dark place.

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