Summertime at the Farmer’s Market is like walking into a candy store. Everywhere you look there are bright colors tempting you, triggering your imagination. My mind spins with all the dishes I can make, each one more exciting than the last. I have to control myself so I don’t buy so many things that I need a truck to get them home.
Even with some measure of self-control, at the end of the week I am often left with a plethora of vegetables that need to be eaten. I can always make a stir-fry, veggie omelet, or a big pot of soup. But when the weather is hot I look for cooler options. And that is when I pull out the pasta and throw together this salad.
This week I had the requisite carrots, celery and red onions, plus yellow and orange bell peppers. I started cooking the carrots and bell peppers first, then added the celery and poblano peppers. I had grilled the poblanos the night before on the barbecue so they just needed to be added at the end. The last addition was the fresh herbs and final seasoning. Season as you go and make sure you taste everything before serving it.
I love the spontaneity a recipe like this evokes. I can use any combination of vegetables, types and flavors of pasta from the pantry, and variation of dressings. If I am in the mood for pesto, I can add spoonful to the vinaigrette in place of the herbs. If I have a lot of oranges on hand, I will make an orange vinaigrette. If I want a creamier dressing, all I have to do is add a bit more mayonnaise. If I am taking this to a picnic, I leave out the mayonnaise (less to be concerned about). Freedom, that’s what this style of cooking is all about.
Until I married The Artist I rarely ate any type of pasta except long strands (fettuccine, spaghetti, capellini) or elbows in mac and cheese or macaroni salad. Now I have all different styles in my pantry, just waiting for an excuse to make and serve them. The type of pasta you use for this salad is up to you, but I recommend you use something that is small and bite-sized. My personal favorite is mini shells. They are much easier for you and your guests to eat daintily, LOL. When I went hunting in my pantry this week I didn’t have any small shapes but really, anything could work.
This is such a colorful salad that it looks best in either white or clear glass dishes. You want the rainbow effect of the vegetables to entice your guests before they take their first bite. This is one of my favorite dishes to serve at luncheons. Serve it in a lettuce leaf or even a hollowed out bell pepper for a stunning presentation. And make sure you take photos before you serve because there probably won’t be any leftovers!
So head into your kitchen, do a little refrigerator and pantry diving, come up with the ingredients and get creative. I know you will have fun escaping the limitations of a recipe and happily creating something from your heart!
Happy Festive Friday!!
Kitchen Skill: How to Cut Up a Bell Pepper
I know, you think you know how to cut a bell pepper, but I bet you’ll love my efficient way of doing it! Using a very sharp paring knife, slice all the way around the top of the pepper, just where the shoulders become straight edges. Pull off the top with the seeds attached and discard.
Set the pepper, top up, on a cutting board. Look inside and you will see the lighter colored ribs. Set your knife so that it runs along the sides of two adjacent ribs and cut down, following the angle of the ribs. This will leave you with the ribs standing vertically, still attached to the base of the pepper. Cut out the remaining sections between ribs. Discard the ribs and bottom of pepper. Stack the sections and slice or chop as directed in the recipe.
Fresh Vegetable and Pasta Salad
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
8 oz small sized pasta, (I prefer conchigliette piccole mini shells)
1 to 2 tbsp mayonnaise, optional
5 tbsp Fresh Lemon Herb Vinaigrette, recipe follows (or use your favorite)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves or 1 tsp dried thyme, rubbed
3 scallions, tough tops discarded, remaining onions minced
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp dried mustard
2 to 3 cups chopped fresh, seasonal vegetables*, cut to match the size of your chosen pasta
* NOTE: Vegetables can include Poblano or Anaheim chilies, bell peppers (avoid green ones), zucchini, crookneck squash, carrots, asparagus, spring garlic, celery, olives, green onions, red onions, and tomatoes. Shop for what is freshest, looking for a variety of colors and textures.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta until as dente (barely done, with some bite still left in it) the pasta will continue to cook as it cools. Drain well, and place in a large bowl. If not using immediately, toss with 1 tsp olive oil to avoid sticking.
In a medium bowl, combine mayonnaise, vinaigrette, salt, pepper, thyme, onion powder, lemon juice and dried mustard together, whisking until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. Pour half of this sauce over pasta, tossing to coat thoroughly.
Chop your chosen vegetables into pieces that are close to the size of your pasta and sauté in 1 to 2 tbsp olive oil, starting with the longest cooking (like carrots and celery), and adding the remaining vegetables one type at a time so that everything is al dente and done about the same time. Alternately, you can microwave them in batches in bowls with a little water, covered with plastic wrap to lightly steam them.
Add prepared vegetables to pasta and toss to combine. Add as much of the remaining sauce as you like and toss again to coat thoroughly. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. Place in refrigerator and chill thoroughly. Serve cool or at room temperature.
Fresh Lemon Herb Vinaigrette
Yield: about 3/4 cup
2 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp minced fresh oregano leaves
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp champagne, sherry, or red wine vinegar
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp minced shallot
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt and ground pepper
6 tbsp light olive oil
Combine thyme and oregano in a small bowl; set aside.
In a blender or food processor, combine the lemon juice, champagne & balsamic vinegars, shallots, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper. Put top on the blender and process for 4 to 5 seconds. With blender running, slowly pour in olive oil. When thick and emulsified, add half of herbs and blend for 1 to 2 seconds.
Taste and adjust seasonings, blending after each adjustment. Pour into a jar and add remaining herbs. Store in refrigerator. Shake to re-emulsify before using.
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