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Pasta Salad

Two of my favorite food writers are Sara Dickerman and Kim Severson. So much food-writing is over-the-top, lifestyle fluff that has nothing to do with the joy, sorrow and glory of real cooking.

Not with these two women. Dickerman was a professional cook; Severson started her journalism career covering school boards in Oregon and cops in Tacoma, Washington before turning to food.

They go wherever there are good stories.

Just last week, I gave up on pasta. I’d purchased a high-priced bag of it, cooked it lovingly, tossed it in aged. artisanal cheese and adorned it with fresh herbs. It tasted okay, but for the price I paid, I could be eating lamb chops.

I thought, I just don’t like pasta anymore. Maybe if I went to a restaurant in Italy and somebody else made it for me and had to wash all those pans, I’d like pasta again, but otherwise, I’m done. Cross pasta off the list.

Then I read Sara Dickerman’s article “The Pasta Salad Manifesto” in Slate magazine.

Just in time for the 4th of July and summer picnics, she walks us through twelve easy steps to rescue that chronic underachiever–cold pasta.

As always, her article is power-packed with practical advise. Cool the noodles quickly, use oil not vinegar as the main element, choose the right noodles, limit textures, stay away from mayo and balsamic vinegar, use tender herbs, and above all else, stay away from the “festive” look.

I perked up–I’d only used half the bag of pricey pasta and had a bunch of asparagus that needed roasting. Maybe I could resurrect my love for pasta. I put the pot of water on the stove to boil and started rummaging through the refrigerator and freezer. Along with the asparagus, I found a red pepper, some shrimp and a red onion.

The asparagus, shrimp and pepper, doused with a dash of olive oil, got roasted. The pasta got cooked al dente and cooled exactly as the Manifesto dictated.

Now all I needed was a sauce, some tender herbs and cheese. The pasta has a creamy quality so I decided to skip the cheese and fresh chives grow in pots on my front porch. That left the sauce.

I wanted to follow Dickerman’s advice and use preserved lemons, but I didn’t have any. They take a week to prepare, so that was out. Then I remembered the quick standby for preserved lemon’s, John Ash’s Roasted Lemon Salsa.

Roasted Lemon Salsa is a great recipe. It’s the recipe equivalent of five greatest songs ever written. It’s simple, it’s uses inexpensive and easy-to-find ingredients, and even though you have to let it marinate for a few hours, it’s much faster than preserved lemons.

Don’t get me wrong, Roasted Lemon Salsa is not the same as preserved lemons, but it’s a good substitue.

So this morning, I tossed everything together–pasta, roasted ingredients and lemon salsa, sprinkling it with chopped chives. I’m headed to Bloomington to spend the 4th with my family.

Before I put the salad out, though, I’ll remember the last piece of advice, taste it one last time before serving because you’ll need more salt. I tucked a small bag of kosher in the picnic basket.

Happy 4th of July to all of you.

Roasted Lemon Salsa

  • 2 large lemons
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots or green onion (white parts only)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons losher or sea salt, or to taste
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, or to taste

PREHEAT THE OVEN TO 400 degrees F. Cut the lemons in half and pick out the seeds. Lightly coat the lemons with a tablespoon of the olive oil. Place the lemons cut side down in a baking dish and roast uncovred for 25 minutes. Remove, cool, and cut the lemons into 1/4 inch dice.

In a bowl, combine the lemons, the remaining olive oil, shallots, sugar, and salt and stir gently. Cover and set aside for at least 3 hours so the flavors can marry and mellow. Initially, the lemons may seem a little harsh or bitter but as they sit the flavor changes markedly. Taste it a couple of times throughout the rest peiod and you’ll see. Adjust the seasonings with additional salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Store covered in the refrigerator for up  to week.

John Ash, Cooking One on One, Private Lessons in Simple, Contemporary Food from a Master Teacher.

Cook’s note:  Instead of halving the lemons, I quarter them. It makes it easier to discard the seeds. Also, I use honey instead of sugar.

Written by Susan Gillie

July 4, 2008 at 4:24 pm

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