Conjuring Spring

Cold and Rainy. That’s Chicago in April and it’s so not fair. I read that my old hometown Phoenix, Arizona was approaching its first 100 degree temp. I’m kind of jealous. Six months of unrelenting cold weather has practically broken my spirit. I just want a little bit of sunshine, the teeniest bit of warmth. It doesn’t help that my Chris is studying abroad in Germany for the next two months and will miss the season completely. Spring is on its way and I’ll just have to enjoy it by my lonesome.

There’s something about spring, isn’t there? It’s a time for return, a resurrection from the agonizingly long winter. Everything sparkles with the glow of new life as trees begin to bud and blossom and baby birds chirp from their nests. I’m bursting with excitement for the warm days ahead. I can’t wait for the fresh produce and farmers’ markets waiting around the corner. Until the sun starts shining, I’m going to have to settle for a little spring in the kitchen.

Citrus always reminds me warm weather. Just close your eyes and think about lemonade, sweet navel oranges, bright green limes. Oh, can’t you just feel the summer sun bristling against your skin? I am trying, really trying to get there in one piece. So here’s a pasta salad I made the other day, because pasta salad reminds me of picnics and picnics remind me of summer. I’m always amazed at the wonderful things that can be done with a single lemon, some olive oil and fresh herbs. I used orzo, a rice-shaped pasta, but really any pasta will do.

Lemon Basil Orzo Salad
1 cup of orzo pasta
Juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
½-1 tsp sea salt
1 large clove garlic
2-3 sprigs of fresh basil
1 small tomato
1 tsp coarse ground black pepper
3-4 stalks of asparagus

In a quart size pot, bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Add the orzo and cook for 5-7 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the orzo, it should be slightly al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Cut the asparagus into quarters and blanch in boiling water for 1 min. You don’t want to boil the asparagus. Plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. This will make the asparagus nice and crisp.

For the dressing: crush the garlic clove with the sea salt until there is a fine pulp. You can do this with the back of the knife, or use a mortar and pestle. In a small dish or bowl, add the lemon juice and continue crushing. Slowly add the olive oil while mixing.

Slice the fresh basil into strips and add to the dressing.

Chop the tomato into large chunks.

Mix all the ingredients and top with pepper. Serve on a bed of fresh spinach. (You can double the dressing recipe and dress the spinach for extra zing.)

I am convinced that by making this dish I am effectively expunging all traces of winter from my kitchen. This pasta salad will make the seasons finally change, the cold winds will blow far out over the sea, the heat will settle over my tiny corner of the city, and I will finally have a sunny day.
Let’s hope it works.

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