Piperade, a classic Basque dish of stewed peppers, onions and tomatoes, becomes a flavorful sauce for this pasta. Colorful bell peppers simmer in olive oil and aromatics until meltingly soft, and juicy tomatoes simmer alongside until they burst, lending both tangy and sweet notes. Briny feta adds salty bites to complement the sweet pepper sauce, but tart aged goat cheese makes a good alternative. This side is even better at room temperature, making it the perfect make-ahead dish for summer picnics or potlucks.
Orzo salad with peppers and feta
• 1 pound orzo
• Kosher salt and pepper
• 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)
• 3 large or 4 medium red, yellow or orange bell peppers (about 1 1/4 pounds), cored, seeded and chopped into ½-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
• 1 fresh thyme sprig
• 1 tablespoon minced garlic
• 1 medium tomato, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
• 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped, plus more for garnish
• 4 ounces feta cheese, thinly sliced or crumbled
Cook orzo in a large pot of salted boiling water according to package directions until al dente. Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta, pressing out excess liquid. Spread out on a baking sheet to cool.
In a large skillet, heat oil over medium. Add onion, bell peppers and thyme, and season with salt and pepper. Cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in garlic until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomato and stir occasionally, until broken down and juices release, about 8 minutes.
Add the reserved pasta water and stir to scrape up any browned bits at the bottom of the skillet.
Transfer vegetable mixture to a large bowl to cool slightly to lukewarm, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to speed up the cooling process. Discard thyme sprig.
Add cooled orzo, lemon juice, basil and cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix well; transfer to a large serving bowl or platter. Garnish with more basil.
Total time: 30 minutes, serves 4-6 (about 10 cups).