lemon and herb orzo

April is usually awesome for its inevitable sunshine, bike-ride worthy warmth, Spring skiing opportunities, and dating anniversary celebrations [8 years strong, people!]. But this April represents some sort of lament for us, as it marks the beginning of our “being apart” phase of 2016.

Jason left for work in Alaska this weekend, and within 24 hours of his return, I will be departing for Argentina with my company, Ker & Downey. Then within just a few days of coming home, he leaves yet again for a field assignment in Montana. We predict that we will see each other for a grand total of about 5 days in April.

It sucks, and I undoubtedly handle it the worst. When Jason is gone – even if it is just for a couple of days – I become the worst version of myself.

I watch too much television, I stay up way too late, I barely feed myself with anything other than chocolate, I try to never leave the house, and I inevitably neglect our pets in favor of more selfish pursuits [like finishing an entire season of The Great British Bake Off in one sitting]. It is my proclamation of “FREEEEDOOMM!!” but it’s proven to be more problematic than freeing.

Here’s an example of the type of inner dialogue I usually default to: “I’m hungry. Crap. Jason’s not here, and I don’t want to cook. I guess it’s pita chips and hummus again.” Which is complete bullocks. Judging by this behavior, you would think that I’d never lived alone or survived as a fully functioning adult prior to meeting my husband. It’s a slap in the face to independent women everywhere.

Which is why I finally decided to try to fight against it with every bone in my body. Once Jason left, I gave myself one full day of mourning and self-pitying, indulging every lazy and dependent tendency I had. But as soon as day 2 came, I tackled it like a boss, cleaning the house, doing yard work, convening with friends, and cooking up my own kind of storm in the kitchen. Heck, I even baked bread! [Which, by the way, is a Jason thing, not an Elizabeth thing.]

jason bread

“Jason Bread” is now “Jason and/or Elizabeth Bread”

It wasn’t of my own volition though. It took some inspiration and empowerment from none other than Tanya Tandoc. I’ve reference Tanya and her Wichita-famous soups before, but few realize how much of an impact she made on my adolescence as both a cook and mentor. For years, my dad and I would attend her intimate cooking classes. I was always the youngest person in the room, yet she insisted on treating me like an adult, challenging my taste buds and opening my eyes to the worldly knowledge that could come from being in the kitchen. Those classes were some of the most cherished memories my dad has ever given me and have stayed with me my entire life.

Indeed, whenever I experience self-doubt in the kitchen or loneliness at home, I lean on Tanya [and, lest we forget to be honest, cake]. Her recipes have the ability to ignite all sorts of can-do energy in me, mostly because:

  1. They are tried and true with a very low margin for error — even I can’t mess them up!
  2. They feel and taste like home, wrapping me in their comfort and nostalgia.
  3. They represent her badassery and have a way of infusing me with it too.

They are magic and exactly what I needed to get over the hurdle of my false co-dependency. Her simple Lemon and Herb Orzo kickstarted it all. I kept the structure of the recipe the same but have since added my own Caprese-inspired twists. The key is the lemon, which along with the tomatoes, provides a brightness to the very earthy pine nuts, parmesan, and pasta. No matter the variations – of which there are plenty – this pasta is always a showstopper, whether serving it to your book club group or hoarding it all to yourself while your husband is away [both of which I have done to great satisfaction].

lemon and herb orzo

Lemon and Herb Orzo

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pasta of your choice, cooked al dente and drained [we prefer orzo]
  • 2 Tb olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Grated zest of one lemon
  • 1 Tb each basil, parsley, and oregano, preferrably fresh [sage and marjoram also work well]
  • Salt and lots of freshly ground pepper to taste
  • ¼ – ½ c. freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • ¼ c. pine nuts, toasted
  • 10-12 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, cut in cubes
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • Hot pepper flakes

Instructions

  1. As the water for the pasta boils, prep your garlic, herbs, lemon zest, mozzarella cheese, and tomatoes.
  2. While pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil on high heat for one minute. Turn off heat and add garlic and lemon zest. Let set until read to use.
  3. Drain pasta and place in large bowl. Toss quickly with hot oil, herbs, and parmesan cheese.
  4. Add pine nuts, mozzarella, and grape tomatoes once slightly cooled.
  5. VARIATIONS: Other variations include goat cheese and brie chunks

basil mozzarella tomatoes toasted pine nutslemon oillemon and herb orzo

Serve warm or chilled with chicken breast, pork tenderloin, or all on its own.

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