Orzo Salad with Fennel and Pickled Cherries

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Defined as the combination of parts to form a whole, every recipe is a composition.  Much like an orchestra, each element has a purpose and is meant to serve as a complement to its counterparts.  Not too much, not too little, each component makes its individual contribution to the overall balance.  This concept in the culinary world was brought home to me during a recent visit to a local restaurant, “Pig in a Fur Coat.”  This place is known for its small plates meant to be shared so we ordered three different things.  The first to arrive was the Rabbit Rillette.  A rillette (ree-YEHT) is a mixture of cooked pulverized meat resembling a smooth pate and  is served cold, usually as an appetizer, spread on toast or bread.  As you might imagine, it is very rich and soft therefore in need of texture and something to cut the fattiness.  The thoughtful additions of pistachios, chopped fine for crunch and a side of pickled cherries, offering up the perfect blend of sweet and acidic, were perfect for achieving the needed balance.  It was these vibrant cherries that brightened the dish and made it a culinary masterpiece.   They were also the inspiration for today’s composition.

Giving serious thought to an upcoming picnic, I wanted a dish that would be a crowd pleaser, carry and hold well yet hold an element of surprise.  Pasta salad, being a warm weather favorite, served as the foundation.  I chose the tiny rice shaped orzo for the noodle for its ease in both serving and casual eating.  Dying to try my hand at pickled cherries, it seemed perfect for the desired, “wow what is that in there?” reaction I was hoping for.  The cherries were made a couple of days in advance streamlining the final assembly.

Here is how it went down.

ORZO SALAD with FENNEL and PICKLED CHERRIES           6-8 Servings

Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis

1/3 c red wine or apple cider vinegar

1/3 c + 2T extra-virgin olive oil

1T Dijon mustard

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 lb. orzo

1 bulb fennel, halved and sliced thin

½ c pickled onions

¾ c pickled cherries, cut in half

2c arugula, chopped

½ lb. fresh mozzarella “pearls” or larger balls cut into small pieces

  1. Whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, mustard, ½ t of salt and ¼ t freshly ground pepper. Set aside.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, add a generous amount of salt and cook the orzo until al dente, about a minute less than the package instructions. Drain well and while it is still warm, add the dressing. Mix well.
  3. Fold in the fennel, pickled onions and cherries. Allow to cool to room temp, about 20 minutes.
  4. Add the arugula and mozzarella and stir to incorporate.
  5. Garnish with fennel fronds. Serve at room temp for maximum flavor.

Note: If making ahead, refrigerate while holding. A drizzle of olive oil will freshen it up prior to serving.IMG_9301

IMG_9295This salad provided a symphony of flavors and color all working together seamlessly.  The fennel, shaved thin on a mandolin (can also be sliced thin with a knife) was perfect for its sweet fragrance and crunch and provided the added bonus of the graceful fronds for garnish.  The assertive peppery mustard flavor of the arugula was an excellent companion to the sweet and savory punch of the pickled cherries and onions.  The added interest of the mozzarella pearls provided additional texture and eye appeal.  Overall, this salad had the impact I had hoped, both for the palate as well as the eye.  The pickled cherries were akin to the prize in the box of Cracker Jack!IMG_9288

Put some of these in your culinary repertoire.

PICKLED CHERRIES

Recipe by Jeanne Raffetto Tentis

¾ c apple cider vinegarIMG_9252

¼ c sugar

2t whole black peppercorns

1t whole coriander seed

½t crushed red pepper

¾ c water

7 oz. dried cherries                   IMG_9245

1 lrg sprig of rosemary

1 piece of orange peel (1 ½ in)

1 small yellow onion, cut in half and sliced thinIMG_9241

  1. Place vinegar, sugar, peppercorns, coriander seed and crushed red pepper in a saucepan with ¾ c of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Strain all the solids and return liquid to the pan.
  2. Add the cherries, rosemary sprig and orange peel and simmer 3-5 minutes or until the cherries are softened.
  3. Place the sliced onion into a quart jar with a tight-fitting  lid. Add the cherries and all the liquid making sure everything is submerged.
  4. Cap with a tight lid and refrigerate for 2 days or up to a month.

Note: Pickled cherries and onion can be used in salads or as an accompaniment to grilled meats. They are also delicious served on a cheese platter.

Have you noticed pickled everything making a show on restaurant menus lately?  Like fashion, food trends are ever evolving so move over cucumbers you now have a lot of competition.

Before I leave you today I would like to pay homage to one of my mentors, Julia Child, who would have celebrated her 103rd birthday yesterday.  Check out some of her most notable quotes.  Thank you, Julia, for all you gave and are still giving to the culinary world.

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I hope my makeover of an old classic serves as inspiration to you.  There are endless uses for the cherries and I challenge you to come up with your own ideas on spreading the pickle love, one dish at a time.  Whether you are making a salad or roast leg of lamb, add your personal spin and always cook with love.  Sending mine to you.  Jeanne

“I think careful cooking is love, don’t you?  The loveliest thing you can cook for someone who’s close to you is about as nice a valentine as you can give.”  Julia Child

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One response to “Orzo Salad with Fennel and Pickled Cherries

  1. Jeanne, your salad sounds incredible! My curiosity was especially piqued by the pickled cherries… just the other day a friend posted (on G+) a photo of vanilla ice cream with fresh picked blackberries (I “read it wrong” and thought she said “pickled” blackberries and promptly asked for her recipe, thinking I was missing out on the next great “food trend”, lol!) Then here you are with pickled cherries… (I read it right this time!) You’re definitely a trendsetter and everything about this salad sounds scrumptious, thanks!

    P.S. We’re on the same wavelength — I just made rillettes the other day — mine were with pork, but rabbit sounds intriguing. Happy eating and thanks for sharing the love and your recipes!

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