Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant are coming in strong in our high tunnels! For some it’s the best part of the summer, all of these vegetables compliment each other really well. There are endless variations and combinations to try. This baked orzo dish has a few more steps than some of our recipes. It’s good to make on a Sunday afternoon, and depending on how many people you serve there might be some leftover for Monday. All of the vegetables are cut into large chunks, and baked with orzo. Feta cheese and olives add great flavor. If you have fresh herbs on hand parsley or oregano would be great addition.
Why salt or “sweat” an eggplant? For larger eggplants there is more risk that they might have a bitter flavor. A lot of the eggplants we grown on the farm are smaller, and since they are so fresh they usually don’t have a bitter flavor. Salting also draws out moisture which is desirable for some dishes, like this orzo where the eggplant is fried to get a silky smooth texture. Whether you salt or not is up to you! (I usually do) If you do salt, using the salad spinner is an easy way to rinse and dry the eggplant without a mess of paper towels or kitchen towels. Let the diced eggplant sit in the salad spinner, rinse, and spin like you would lettuce.
Salting and frying the eggplant adds some time to this recipe, but it’s little steps like this that elevate home cooking to the next level. Salt the eggplant, and then chop the rest of the ingredients. Fry the eggplant while the orzo is cooking, and then assemble the rest of the dish. It goes by quickly.
When the eggplant is finished everything is mixed in the same pot. Add the orzo first and gently toss with the oil in the pan. Then add the eggplant back to the pan along with the remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Baking the orzo browns the top nicely. Serve with a simple salad.
Eggplant Baked Orzo
1 medium to large eggplant, any variety (3 cups diced)
1 large bell pepper or sweet pepper, diced
1 large tomato, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and roughly chopped
6 oz crumbled feta cheese
1 1/2 cups orzo (gluten-free or whole wheat if preferred)
salt + pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
Preheat oven to 350F.
Sweat the eggplant. Place the diced eggplant in a colander or the basket of a salad spinner. Generously salt, let sit for 20 minutes. While the eggplant is sweating, prepare the vegetables and olives. Cook orzo according to package directions to al dente.
Rinse eggplant and pat or spin dry. Heat olive oil in a large pan until shimmering. Fry eggplant for about 6 minutes. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon. Cook green pepper in remaining oil, add garlic. When pepper is about halfway done, turn off heat. Add cooked orzo to pan, toss to coat with oil. Add remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust salt and pepper if necessary. Bake 20 – 25 minutes at 350F.
Gluten free variation. Look for gluten free orzo. I have found it at Wegman’s. Or sub cooked brown rice for the orzo.