adjusting to the grind: whole wheat orzo & broccoli pesto salad with lemon & creme fraiche

Was it really only one week ago that I was fluffing and fretting about which sparkly shirt to wear to ring in twenty twelve?  Only one week ago that the holiday spirit was still swirling around town in the form of twinkling lights and eggnog flavored cocktail specials?  It’s sixty degrees here in Boulder, and though that in itself is a really (really) great thing in my book, I can’t help but notice how it adds to the swift kick in the rear that is the end to the holiday season.  This week the fluffing and fretting has been all about opening and sorting that stack of mail and bills (which frighteningly are on my desk imitating The Leaning Tower of Pisa) and clearing the fridge of leftover holiday treats to make room for some decidedly more waistline friendly fare.

That magical week that exists between Christmas and New Years Day is a wormhole; where you put mimosas, apple pie, and yuletide cheer in one end, out the other comes resolutions, hot yoga, and lots – and lots – of tofu.  It’s a new beginning, however as invigorating as that is it never ceases to amaze me how justlikethat the merriment and carefree spirit of the holidays comes to one grinding and impossible to ignore halt.  What if I’m not done with my eggnog just yet?  And while we’re at it, I’d like another gingersnap.


I’ve been feeling the ‘grind’ that we’re meant to get back to even more so; on Monday, I woke up with an only somewhat subdued version of the flu, and also had to face down something I’d been dreading since the day our little ankle-biter waltzed into our lives – her spay appointment.  If you’re privy to the disaster that we went through last August, I’m sure you can envision the basket case that was living in my house,  wearing my clothes, and imitating Cory.  Add in two stuffed up nostrils, one fiercely sore throat, and a belly full of awful ache, and that basket case took an extra dose of crazy and was one bad day away from the loony bin.  Luckily our veterinarian is amazing, and the sweet staff managed to placate me with promises of delivering a healthy puglet missing only a square patch of hair on her tiny belly and some unwanted reproductive bits.  Promises were kept, and both the pug and I had a couple of days of much needed recouping.

And much needed broccoli eating.  As promised, I’ve been tinkering around in the kitchen not making pies, heavy meat based dishes, or things containing superfluous bacon – no, I’ve been keeping up my part of the New-Year-New-Me bargain and instead have been dishing out some lighter veggie fare.  Simple, fresh, fast, and healthy – things easy to make whilst recovering from some holiday excess (who, me?) and also while battling my unwelcome ailment.  This orzo salad had a bit of everything I was looking for – fresh crunchy broccoli, savory and filling pesto, and whole wheat orzo that transforms what would generally be labeled a side dish a great excuse for a hearty lunch.

The broccoli is blanched until it’s the brightest emerald green, and some of it is wizzed about with pinenuts and a bit of Parmesan to make a delicious yet nontraditional pesto.  The addition of a spoonful of creme fraiche is a bit naughty, but hey – someone has to keep the holiday spirit around, right?

In truth, the amount is so negligible that after its distribution the richness and body it adds is worth it.  This is not just your average wet and mushy pasta salad – it’s fresh and bright and full of whole grains, and the lemon lends a summery taste that is exactly what I felt like cozying up with after weeks of braised, basted, and baked.  This is truly great – an easy recipe to file away for picnics, potlucks, or Sunday brunches.

Broccoli, whole wheat, and lemon for the New Year.  And creme fraiche.  Now this, I can handle.

Whole Wheat Orzo with Broccoli Pesto, Lemon, and Creme Fraiche
Adapted just barely from Super Natural Every Day, by Heidi Swanson
Serves 6

This is the perfect side salad to bring to a picnic, dinner, or brunch, as besides the fact it is totally delicious, it is also really easy to pack up and transport.

Heidi’s recipe includes stirring in a whole sliced avocado just as you are stirring the whole salad together; I thought the pesto and creme fraiche added the perfect amount of slight creaminess, and decided to omit the avocado as I thought the flavor and texture would get lost.  I loved the way that mine turned out, but encourage you to try it however you like.

This is a wonderful cookbook, and one that I find myself consulting quite often when looking for innovative ideas for side dishes, meat free mains, and interesting whole grain desserts.  If you’re into that sort of thing (get into it!), you should totally get your hands on a copy.

sea salt
1 1/2 cups (9 oz / 255 g) whole wheat orzo
5 cups (11 oz / 310 g) raw broccoli cut into small florets and stems
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2/3 cup (3.5 oz / 100 g) pine nuts*
1/3 cup (.5 oz / 15 g) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup (2 oz / 60 g) crème fraîche
zest of 1 lemon

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Salt generously, add the orzo, and cook according to the package instructions. Drain, rinse with cold water, and drain well again.

In the meantime, cook the broccoli. Bring 3/4 cup (180 ml)of  water and a large pinch of salt to a boil in a large pot.  Stir in the broccoli, and cover and cook for just over one minute – just long enough to take the raw bite out of the broccoli but that it still retains it’s bright green color.  Drain the broccoli quickly and run it under cold water until it’s fully cooled (this will stop the cooking and help it keep that gorgeous green color).  Set aside.

Make the pesto.  In the bowl of a food processor, combine 2 cups ( 7 oz / 200 g) of the cooked broccoli florets, the garlic, most of the pine nuts (reserve a small handful), the Parmesan, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and the lemon juice.  Drizzle in the olive oil and crème fraîche, and pulse the mixture until smooth.  You will have a light green pesto that is similar in consistency to a more traditional basil type, but just a bit less oily.

When you are ready to serve the salad, toss the orzo and remaining cooked broccoli florets with about two-thirds of the broccoli pesto and the lemon zest.   Toss, and if desired add the rest of the broccoli pesto for a stronger flavor, or a bit of warm water for a thinner consistency (I did not do either; I thought the salad was perfect with ⅔ of the pesto and saved the rest for sandwiches).  Add salt to taste, and garnish the top of the salad with the remaining small handful of pine nuts.

Salad will save, covered in the refrigerator, for 3-4 days.

*Heidi recommends you toast the pine nuts; I am lazy and decided to leave mine raw & untoasted.

11 responses to “adjusting to the grind: whole wheat orzo & broccoli pesto salad with lemon & creme fraiche

  1. Your wormhole has a decidedly truncated lifespan, my dear. Mine starts in October and lasts through Valentine’s Day. I’m glad your little doggie is home safe and sound and this meal looks fantastic!

  2. This is officially on the list for next week! I think it is time I get my hands on this cookbook, I’ve heard so many great things about it. Great running into on Christmas, wish we all could have seen each other more, Happy New Year Cory!

    • it was so great to see you too luce! i hope you guys are having a great start to the year in LDN. definitely pick up a copy of this – i reference it all the time for ideas & inspiration & its nice & small (and paperback!) so it’s easy to carry around. i wish we had more time to hang as well, but am working on james for a london/euro trip in late spring! will keep you posted:) xo

  3. Yum yum …..😉 must try this recipe! Happy to hear your furry child is doing well!

  4. really enjoying your blog, Cory, and trying some of these fab recipes! And yeah, I’d like another flaming rum punch too…! ps: my Christmas morning grapefruit brulee was a hit at my house, so thanks for that:)

    • hi lisamarie! thank you so much – i am so happy to hear that! im glad the grapefruit was a hit – i’ve got a bunch left in the fridge right now actually, and just found a recipe for a grapefruit glazed cake that i think ill tackle this afternoon….if you’ve got grapefruit fans (i am a huge fan) hopefully it will be delish & another fun one to try!

  5. also, the broccoli-orzo salad a hit. Keep ’em coming! It’s cold and bleak and snowy here in VT… perfect weather for kitchen adventures!

  6. Pingback: tried & true: rustic country meatloaf | {relish}

  7. Pingback: best in show: wild rice & mushroom casserole | {relish}

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