Thursday, August 18, 2011

My First Slow Food Book Club Meeting

How do you feel about the idea of doing something that scares you in order to promote personal growth? I kind of hate that concept... But sometimes I'm glad I did the scary thing afterwards. This week, I did something that was scary to me, or at least intimidating. Pushing aside memories of being painfully shy and introverted and inarticulate, I went to a Slow Food Book Club meeting.

This was my first time ever going to a Slow Food event, or participating in a book club. The meeting was held in a 101-year-old home in downtown Sacramento, where our host for the evening lives. She owns 3000+ cookbooks and was incredibly gracious and knowledgeable about all things culinary.

This meeting was a potluck, and the food was something to behold. With all the foodies in attendance, perhaps this was to be expected, but it surpassed my expectations. Quinoa and Caprese salads, pizza with homegrown tomatoes, a fantastic cheese platter with chutney and crackers, and a Smitten Kitchen recipe for blondies were some of the dreamy offerings.

The book we discussed (which is being held up in the picture above) was written by local Davis dweller Spring Warren, who pledges to grow her own food for a year and make her diet 75% homegrown. The title is Quarter Acre Farm: How I Kept the Patio, Lost the Lawn, and Fed My Family For a Year, and it was a highly enjoyable read: funny, entertaining, informative, and never condescending to the rest of us humble folk who only dabble in gardening. There are also plenty of tasty sounding recipes.

Before going to the book club, I was afraid that others might show up with home-cured wild boar sausage and scoff at me for buying my orzo pasta at a grocery store instead of making it from scratch. In truth, all of the Slow Food friends I met were very down to earth, incredibly generous, and delightfully passionate about good food and restoring our connection to the food chain. And that's something I can absolutely get behind.

Here's the recipe for the dish I made, pictured in the bottom left corner of the photo above. It's a unique, easy-to-make alternative to a pasta salad, and perfect for bringing to a potluck or picnic. I used green onions from the garden, cut out the capers (it's plenty salty already with the kalamata olives), and used sun-dried tomato feta. Here's to doing something scary and being pleasantly surprised.

Orzo Salad with Feta, Olives and Bell Peppers
From Epicurious

12 ounces orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cups crumbled seasoned feta cheese (such as basil and tomato; about 6 ounces)
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 cup chopped yellow bell pepper
3/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives
4 green onions, chopped

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

Cook orzo in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite. Drain. Rinse with cold water; drain well. Transfer to large bowl. Toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add crumbled feta cheese, chopped bell peppers, Kalamata olives, green onions and capers.

Combine lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, oregano, mustard and cumin in small bowl. Gradually whisk in remaining 1/2 cup olive oil. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.

Add dressing to orzo mixture and toss to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 6 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Garnish salad with pine nuts; serve.

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