Orzo and fennel, say what?

Don't let the fennel bulb scare you. It's actually fairly easy to use.

If you had told me a few years back that I would one day prepare a dish with orzo and fennel, I would’ve said, “But, I don’t eat a lot of organic foods.”

It turns out that I knew little about either.

I was leafing through the March/April 2010 issue of Clean Eating magazine last Thursday when I spotted a recipe for Orzo with Citrus & Fennel. I knew orzo (Italian for “barley”) to be a type of pasta shaped like rice, but I had never eaten it, much less cooked with it. I also knew I could find fennel in the produce aisle. Judging from the recipe’s accompanying picture, I suspected the odd-sounding ingredients would transform themselves into a pasta-salad-like side dish (what a sleuth I am!). I could only hope that it would taste good, too. After all, would a recipe call for fennel if it tasted horrible?

Ingredients in hand, including a crazy-looking fennel bulb, I churned out the recipe and tried it out on Husband for dinner on Friday. His response? Excellent! So, I tripled the recipe and brought the dish to a barbecue at the in-laws on Saturday. Their response? Excellent!

You know you’re doing something right when even the teenagers ask for more.

So, if you’re looking to try something different, something refreshing and something amazingly easy, give this recipe a shot.

Orzo with Fennel & Citrus*
(4 servings)

5 oz. orzo (found in the pasta aisle)
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
1/8 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1 orange
1/4 medium bulb fennel, cored and thinly sliced, plus 1 Tbsp. feathery fennel fronds, chopped
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup crumbled feta OR goat cheese

Cook orzo according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.

Zest orange and add zest to bowl with vinaigrette. Peel orange (over same bowl to catch drippings) and cut sections from orange. Place orange sections in separate bowl. Squeeze any remaining orange juice into vinaigrette and discard membrane.

Drain orzo; add to large bowl with vinaigrette and toss. Set aside to cool slightly.

Add orange sections to orzo. Stir in fennel, fennel fronds and onions. Top with feta or goat cheese and serve at room temperature or chilled.

Oh, and fennel? It tastes a little bit like licorice. Really!

*Recipe taken from the March/April 2010 Clean Eating magazine, pg. 69.

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