For cooks, going to 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 whirls 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 I want a single dish meal, 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 orange vinaigrette. If I want a creamier dressing, all I have to do is add a bit more mayonnaise. 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. 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. They are much easier for you and your guests to eat daintily without need a knife. 🙂
Make your own salad dressings whenever possible. The difference in flavor is remarkable. Making your own also allows you to control the additives in your diet. I believe that eating fresh foods with as little processing and additives as possible will ultimately help us live healthier lives.
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 on lettuce leaf or maybe half of 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!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
If you are using regular pasta, cook it about 1 minute less than the package suggests. It will continue to “cook” with the residual heat and wind up being the perfect consistency.
Use your favorite gluten-free pasta for this salad. Any shape works, but something like penne will hold up better and give you more “tooth” when you eat it. Start checking the “doneness” of your GF pasta about 1 minute before the package says it will be done and pull it off the heat just a touch before it is done (keep nibbling on pieces until it is perfect). Immediately drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.
Kitchen Skill: How to Cut a Bell Pepper
I know, you think you know how to cut a bell pepper, but I bet you’ll love my 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. Discard the ribs and bottom of pepper. I wind up with three or four sections of peppers, depending on their size. I stack the sections and slice or chop as directed in the recipe.
- 8 oz small size pasta shapes or gluten-free pasta if needed
- 1 to 2 tbsp mayonnaise, optional
- 5 tbsp Fresh Lemon Herb Vinaigrette, or more to taste (recipe follows) or use your favorite store-bought salad dressing
- 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 finely chopped fresh, seasonal vegetables*
- 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 bite-size. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat and sauté vegetables, 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 one type at a time in bowls with a little water in the bottom and 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.
- Yield: 4 to 6 servings
- *Vegetables can include Poblano or Anaheim chilies, bell peppers (avoid green ones, they are too harsh), 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.
- 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
- Pinch sugar
- 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 with a tight lid and add remaining herbs. Store in refrigerator. Shake to re-emulsify before using.
- Yield: about 3/4 cup
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