My Night With Ina – and Her Orzo with Roasted Vegetables

by Kate on April 11, 2013

Orzo with Roasted Vegetables

Everyone has that one celebrity that they play out meeting someday over and over in their heads, some never getting the chance to actually do so, but even just the fantasy is enough.

But for myself, my mom, my cousin Jen and Aunt Kathy, we got that chance two weeks ago when we joined a few thousand other women (and surprisingly quite a few men) at the Hanover Theatre in Worcester and met the one, the only, Ina Garten, aka The Barefoot Contessa.

In my “Easier than Ina’s Pecan Squares” post a while back, I mentioned how there’s some Ina controversy in my family – some mixed emotions as to her fabulousness.  But that generally, we all consider her to be like another member of the family, showcasing at least one of her recipes at at least every holiday gathering.  But when I was searching high and low for the perfect Christmas gift for my mom, I discovered that Ina was coming to town in March.  And I thought “bingo!”.  When my mom opened the tickets on Christmas Eve, it was like a little kid opening Nintendo (totally dating myself) or finding out they’re going to Disneyworld.  Sheer excitement that she would finally get the chance to see Ina – in the flesh.

Ina Garten's Roasted Vegetable Orzo

I suspect it was a close second to the day I was born for my mom – maybe…

She sat up on stage with local Boston t.v. and radio personality, Billy Costa, and he covered everything from how she got her cooking beginnings to dishing about her favorite food network celebrity chefs (and let’s just say, I don’ t think that her and Rachel Ray are BFF’s).  They then opened the floor up for questions – and OMG – hoards of people running to the aisles to get a chance at the mic to ask Ina all kinds of questions ranging from “Why do you use so many different kinds of salt” to “If you could describe yourself as one food, what would you be” (to which she replied that you should ask Jeffrey – oh Ina you naughty girl)

Ina Garten's Roasted Vegetable Orzo

Front row seats! Or um – er – a superior zoom lens

Then they whisked her away for the book signing out in the foyer, where I think every single person in the building waited in at least a mile long line to have the chance to get her sharpie signature on their favorite Ina cookbook.  It was serious business.  Like a bunch of teenie boppers at a Bieber concert.  “No photos behind a certain line” – “No stopping – keep moving”.  I mean, wow.  This woman is a celeb.

Ina Garten's Roasted Vegetable Orzo

Jen’s reaction was mild

But I took away some fun facts that I didn’t know about my girl Ina, which I’ll share with you fans:

  1. Don’t be fooled by the gallons of wine she serves at her on screen dinner parties – Ina’s drink of choice is a Whisky Sour.
  2. When asked what her all time favorite restaurant anywhere in the world (I think world) was, she said Al Forno in Providence! I mean OMG – I’ve been there!
  3. She started off at Syracuse, but didn’t finish – Jeffrey swept her off her feet and made an honest woman of her at the ripe age of only 20 and they’ve been happily married ever since.
  4. She decided to open her specialty food store, Barefoot Contessa, in the Hamptons after reading the newspaper and discovering that there was a specialty food shop for sale – talk about eenie meenie minie moe!
  5. The largest crowd she’s cooked for is 1,000 people.
  6. Before becoming a cooking oracle, she worked at the White House – on their budget – bet they’re kicking themselves in the ass for that one.
  7. She was largely inspired by Craig Claiborne and of course, Julia Child.
  8. And last but not least, her favorite meal to serve to new friends is her roasted rack of lamb and roasted vegetable orzo.

Orzo with Roasted Vegetables

I’m not a lamb fan.  So I gave this roasted veggie orzo a whirl after probably 75% of the audience screamed out “Ohhhh I love that one!”.  And boy did she hit the nail on the head with this dish.  It’s absolutely perfect for this time of year when the weather is starting to get nicer.  Lots of yummy veggies, which really take on an entirely different flavor after being roasted, combined with a light, lemony dressing that will have you going for a double scoop.

  Orzo with Roasted Vegetables

Ina Gartens Orzo with Roasted Vegetables

Ingredients

  • 1 small eggplant, 3/4-inch diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, 1-inch diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, 1-inch diced
  • 1 red onion, peeled and 1-inch diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup good olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 pound orzo or rice-shaped pasta
  • For the dressing:
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (juice of 2 lemons)
  • 1/3 cup good olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • To assemble:
  • 4 scallions, minced (white and green parts)
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 3/4 feta cheese (Ina says "good" feta, not crumbled, but I used crumbled - sorry girlfriend)
  • 15 fresh basil leaves, cut into julienne

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Toss the eggplant, bell peppers, onion, and garlic with the olive oil, salt, and pepper on a large sheet pan. Roast for 40 minutes, until browned, turning once with a spatula.

Meanwhile, cook the orzo in boiling salted water for 7 to 9 minutes, until tender. Drain and transfer to a large serving bowl. Add the roasted vegetables to the pasta, scraping all the liquid and seasonings from the roasting pan into the pasta bowl.

Whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper to prepare the dressing and pour it on the pasta and vegetables while they're still warm, tossing to combine. Let the pasta/veggies/dressing cool to room temperature, then add the scallions, toasted pine nuts, feta, and basil. Serve at room temperature.

http://www.andtheycookedhappilyeverafter.com/2013/04/11/my-night-with-ina-and-her-orzo-with-roasted-vegetables/

Camila Faria April 13, 2013 at 4:16 pm

WOW, how exciting! I’d love to meet her too. She’s more than a celeb, she’s a culinary diva!

Linda April 17, 2013 at 5:18 pm

Nice post and thanks for the recipe. Just an interesting side note you should google her and see what she did at the white house. It wasn’t as a chef or anything to do with food. She wrote nuclear energy policy in the 70’s. no kidding.

Kate April 17, 2013 at 6:01 pm

Isn’t that wild Linda? (I must have had my facts mixed up) I bet they’re really kicking themselves for not putting her to good use in the kitchen! Lucky for Jeffrey I guess :)

haley May 25, 2013 at 10:34 pm

yumm i love making this dish. i add pesto and fresh mozzeralla to mine

dannika June 13, 2013 at 12:46 am

Does this recipe keep well as a “make ahead” type dish?

Kate June 13, 2013 at 1:18 am

Absolutely Dannika! You could prepare the orzo and the veggies the night before (or even two nights before). My only recommendation would be to a) let it come to room temperature before serving and b) wait to add the feta, pine nuts, basil and scallions until just before you serve it – only because the basil can get kind of wilted and the scallions, pine nuts and feta add a nice texture when added at the very end. They can loose their crunch if they’re refrigerated over night.

nikki July 11, 2013 at 10:59 pm

I just made this and it is amazing! So easy to make! This is going to be my new potluck staple!

Louise Thomas February 12, 2014 at 5:11 pm

Make this dish for pot lucks and always get rave reviews, make this salads for myself also. I never had eggplant before never knew how good this purple veggie is.

Kate February 19, 2014 at 3:04 am

Isn’t it the best Louise? I cant wait for some warmer weather so I can bring it back into the rotation!

Laura B. April 24, 2014 at 9:53 pm

That’s 3/4 cup of feta, right?

Kate April 25, 2014 at 1:21 am

Yes, sorry Laura – 3/4 cup – oh its so good!

Kate May 10, 2014 at 6:46 pm

I love this salad also. I just made it for the first time. I wish I had watched the Food Network video before I made it. She cut her veggies much larger than I did. The recipe says to peel the eggplant but Ina doesn’t peel hers and it’s not necessary to peel it. This would have saved me lots of time!

I, too, would love to meet her. I always enjoy watching her show. She seems to have a dream life!

Megan June 11, 2014 at 5:04 am

Kate, you say that it can pretty much all be prepped ahead. Would you combine the orzo and roasted veggies at the time of cooking them – then add the last 4 items, along with the dressing just before serving? Or if combining the orzo and veggies (2 days ahead), would you add the dressing then?

Kate June 11, 2014 at 5:41 pm

Great question Megan! I would definitely recommend doing the orzo, veggies and dressing all at the same time, only because combining them when they’re warm really enhances the flavor. You could do this a couple days before, refrigerate and then let come to room temp before ready to serve. The basil, feta and pine nuts should definitely be added at the last minute to keep the basil fresh and pine nuts crunchy. I hope this helps!

Megan June 12, 2014 at 2:28 am

Thanks Kate, trying it tomorrow night!

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