“Hot town, summer in the city…”

It’s June. My town (Houston) is hot, and it’s only going to get hotter as the weeks roll by. Luckily, along with the heat come ears of sweet corn, ripe Texas peaches, and these adorable yellow heirloom tomatoes, straight outta the Blue Jean backyard.

tiny yellow heirlooms!

I love summer, unabashedly. Cutoff shorts, tank tops, sunscreen, fluffy beach towels, oversized shades, sweat—bring it on, I say! To honor the sultry season, here at Blue Jean Gourmet we’ll be featuring favorite summer dishes every Tuesday from now until Labor Day. Everything from potluck-friendly dishes (like the one below) to pitcher-friendly beverages and crowd-pleasing desserts…Blue Jean Gourmet will be celebrating summer right, and we hope you will celebrate with us!

Some recipes will be familiar (Southern-style potato salad, anyone?), while others will offer a twist on old favorites (a colorful, Southwestern-style coleslaw with a kick!) As always, I promise to provide straightforward, delicious food which is well-worth making, and worth making again and again. If you have any suggestions or requests for summer food favorites as we move forward, please leave a comment or send a note to bluejeangourmet (at) gmail (dot) com.

Let the Summer Classics Series begin!

orzo up-close

This pasta salad recipe is a lighter twist on the mayonnaise-heavy classic, and it’s perfect for summer because a) you can make it ahead of time, b) you can feed a crowd with it, c) the method is very straightforward, and d) the dish highlights all that’s lovely about summer produce. I like to call this recipe “farmers market friendly,” because you can easily adapt this salad to whatever vegetables looked the best at your local vendor.

If you’re not familiar with orzo, now is the time. Generally described as a rice-shaped pasta (personally, I think it looks more like little teardrops, but whatever), you can find orzo in little bags next to all of the other boxed noodles on the pasta aisle. Orzo’s one of the things I always keep in my pantry because it’s so versatile. The bag may be small, but be warned—it cooks up to fairly large amount!

My friend Lee originally introduced me to this recipe (hey you!), and she suggests making this dish more carnivore-friendly by adding chopped prosciutto at the end. Frankly, I’ve never done this, because the dish is so darn tasty as it is…but then again, so is prosciutto.

In tribute to Lee (who works at my high school and in whose office I spent a great deal of time reading Dostoevksy), I’d like to connect classic food with classic literature. A few of my fellow book-nerds and I have decided to take on a “big” book for the summer, a classic we haven’t gotten around to reading yet. Mine? Joyce’s masterwork, Ulysses. I’m a little nervous but a lot excited (book-nerd, remember?) and curious if any of you out there are taking on a substantial summer read. Check out the “100 Greatest” lists at The Guardian, Random House, or Time Magazine for inspiration, and let us know what your suggested favorites are! I know we’ve got a bunch of fellow book-nerds (and teachers and librarians) reading this blog.

So, to sum up:

1) Tuesdays will be Summer Classics Days here at Blue Jean Gourmet from now until Labor Day. Send us suggestions for dishes to feature/adapt!
2) We like classic literature, along with classic food, here at BJG. What are your favorites among the great books? Taking on any big ones this summer?
3) This pasta salad is really, really good and easy to make. Try it!

Sautéed Vegetable Orzo
adapted from Lee Avant

You can use whatever veggies you want—I’ve just listed my favorites. Do your best to chop uniformly so the vegetables will cook evenly.  This salad will taste even better the next day, if there’s any left!

1 package orzo (rice-shaped) pasta orzo ingredients

1 red onion or 2 shallots (the latter has a milder flavor), chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

2 portabello mushrooms, cubed

1 zucchini, cubed

3-4 fresh tomatoes, cubed

grated parmesan, cubed feta, or bocconcini (tiny mozzarella balls)

olive oil

1-2 T butter (adds flavor)

optional: chopped fresh basil, fresh lemon juice, chopped prosciutto (find with the specialty cheese & deli meats)

Cook orzo in boiling, salted water until toothsome (6-8 minutes). Drain and set aside in a large bowl or serving dish.

Heat olive oil & butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion & garlic and sauté until fragrant. Toss in mushrooms and zucchini, cooking until desired tenderness is achieved (5-8 minutes).

Mix cooked veggies in with the pasta, adding the uncooked tomatoes. Blend in cheese and prosciutto (if using), adding more olive oil if needed to keep the pasta coated. Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice and garnish with basil.

Serve immediately or cover with foil & keep warm in a low oven. Enjoy!

finished orzo



  1. can’t believe you gave me such a shout-out! and my orzo never looked as beautiful as yours — thanks for the tribute. now i’m inspired to find more to share!

  2. Fredabeth Avant

    this is my favorite dish of my daughter Lee’s. she makes it for my bithday, etc.
    Would like to add to your summer reading list, but not a classic. The American Plague by Molly Caldwell Crosby. A first book by another young Memphis writer.

  3. I love the idea of tossing prosciutto in there at the end, but what I love more is your commitment to substantial summer reading. Who needs crappy chick-lit when you can read Dostoevsky instead?

  4. All this talk of summer by your folks in the South just kills me. At least we have local asparagus now.

    It doesn’t qualify as literature, but I’ve always wanted to make bearnaise after reading the original Bond books by Ian Fleming.

  5. Nikki Jackson

    “Do your best to chop uniformly so the vegetables will cook evenly.”

    That’s my new mantra. It really answers every question I’ve ever had about life.

    looks yumyum.

  6. That pasta salad looks good!

    • bluejeangourmet

      love the book suggestions, everyone! thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Fredabeth–I am a big fan of your daughter. big fan.

      Cheryl–thanks for the props; I was and still remain a Dostoevsky girl!

      Cheryl A–who says Bond doesn’t count as literature??? there’s also a “Young Bond” series which many of my students are fond of…and you should go for the bearnaise! it’s not as scary as everyone makes it out to be.

      Nikki–ha, maybe we should put it on a bumper sticker?

      Kevin–the credit for it *looking* so good should go to my photographer, Sonya, but I can take credit for it *tasting* as good as it looks!

  7. Yay! I’ve been waiting for this one! It was my favorite from the last cooking extravaganza.

    And my big summer books are Moby Dick and Middlemarch. Woo!

    p.s. I love the word ‘toothsome’ now. Well really, I should say I know the word ‘toothsome’ now.

  8. So, the sweetest tall man ever made this recipe tonight and he has two questions:

    1. When should one add salt (if, say, one might want more than is added by salting the water for the orzo)? That is, are these the kind of vegetables that one is not supposed to add salt to while sauteing because it will cause them to dehydrate (I know there’s a special foodie term for that, right?)?

    2. What size are your cubes (cuz, according to him, yours are prettier than his)?

    Also, we used a mix of multi-colored tiny tomatoes (yum!) and had our usual dispute over whether to halve them (me) or not (him). Can you offer any insights on either side of this debate?

    • bluejeangourmet

      court–the sweet, tall man is going to keep me on my toes!


      1. This is an excellent question. I salt when assembling the salad–once veggies are cooled, etc. I do not salt when sauteing veggies, especially mushrooms because they give off a lot of water. Also, at this point you’ve got other flavors going on (extra olive oil, cheese, possibly prosciutto) that may contribute salt as well so salting at the very end is the way to go.

      2. While I’m sure your husband’s salad looked just fine, I think my cubes were definitely on the big side when raw–about 1 inch to 3/4 inch square? You know I don’t measure these things. I’m not precise like him!

      3. Ah, the great tiny tomato debate. I can argue both sides, actually. Halving the tomatoes makes them much easier to consume, of course. The only problem is that if you have leftovers, the halved tomatoes can add a lot of extra water to the pasta salad while it’s being stored in the fridge. So if you are making ahead for a crowd, I would throw in the whole tomatoes. If you are making at home for yourself, I’d throw the halved tomatoes on top of your individual bowls but not mix them in the salad. (Do you see me attempting to be like Switzerland here?)

  9. Hi Nishta!
    I’ve been loving your food blog SO MUCH!! It makes me miss you, your food in craft class, and your beautiful writing! My brother and sister and I made the sangria the other night with freshly picked organic strawberries that we gathered on a farm by the Pacific ocean. Delicious!

    And I love your idea of reading a classic this summer. I think I’m going to crack open Jane Eyre. Or perhaps Mrs. Dalloway.


    • bluejeangourmet

      Lauren, thanks for the generous comment! I love the image of you & your siblings downing a pitcher of sangria with pick-your-own strawberries. I’m so glad I was a part of the experience.

  10. yum!!! this looks great. we also looooove orzo. thanks for the tip!!

  11. Pingback: SUMMER CLASSICS SERIES: SWAN SONG « Blue Jean Gourmet

  12. Thanks for the recipes. I’m sharing these with my wife. You made me hungry! LOL

    • bluejeangourmet

      Bryan, you’re so welcome (although I hope your wife won’t find suggested recipes unwelcome!)–if I made you hungry, I definitely did my job 🙂

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