Thursday, June 3, 2010

Mediterranean Salad

It's summer time! Or at least it's supposed to be. Living in the Pacific Northwest however, 'summertime' doesn't necessarily mean it's sunny and rain free. So far it's been pretty bad here; alas, that is not stopping me on my 'salads of summer' quest! I have been close to obsessed with finding different ways to make salads that are filling and hearty yet light and of course, healthy.

My inspiration for this salad is not my own... I went to a local restaurant, Pastazza, which just happens to be down the road from our house. Lynn and Fred, the owners, are very nice and their food is really good. Lynn even saved Noodle Nose's North Carolina! ... another story :) I usually get the same thing but I decided to branch out and get the mediterranean salad. I am so glad I did because it's my new favorite thing on their menu.

So that brings me to my mediterranean salad... I was craving 'the' salad but decided, as a creative home chef, I could totally do something of the like and rock it! I did a darn good job too... the chewiness of the pasta adds a great texture difference to the greens; the crunch of the veg is bright and refreshing; the bite of the kalamata olives... mmmm.

1/2 package penne pasta
1 english cucumber, de seeded and chopped
1 pkg cherry tomatoes, halved
1 can chickpeas, drained
About 4 lightly packed cups of spring greens (This is about one cup per person but eyeball it... when you're done tossing, you may want more)
1 pkg kalamata olives, halved
Feta cheese (optional)
For the dressing:
3 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, diced fine (make it fresh please!!)
2 Tablespoon fresh basil, julilenned and diced fine (make it fresh please!! Big difference. Big.)

Boil pasta according to package directions. When done, strain and shock with cold water. The shocking may be controversial... some people don't think you should rinse pasta but I personally like to do so; and there you have it. :)

In a 'shakeable' jar or container (my fave is a kerr jar that housed my sister in law's jam until Noodle Nose devoured it in a period of two days' worth of almond butter and jam sandwiches) combine vinegar, oil, herbs and salt. Seal that puppy up and shake the heck out of it. Note: I like to make my dressing early so the ingredients have time to 'get to know' each other. You will want to do this so the flavors marry and make happy flavor babies...

De seed your cucumber and chop it up. You should also wash and halve your tomatoes, drain your chickpeas and halve your kalamata olives. You can do all this while your pasta is cooking!

When everything is prepped and ready, get out a large bowl. In it, put some of your cooked pasta, cucumber, tomato and chickpeas (I mix each salad individually so everyone has the same amount of goodies and dressing. This makes for less fighting at the dinner table. Give your dressing jar another good shake, open and pour some of dressing. You're going to do more later so don't get too frisky. Toss those ingredients until completely covered.

To the mix you just tossed, add some (about 1 packed cup) of your greens. This is why I don't have exact measurements for the greens... I like to 'see' how much is needed as you toss each individual salad. Add a little more dressing, if desired and toss. I am not a huge dressing girl; I do not like my salads swimming in their dressing. I would rather toss lightly and offer my guests the option of more if they prefer to see their salad swim. In this case, you may want to make more dressing.

Now, the kalamata olives... I didn't want them to sink to the bottom so I put in a very small handful and gave it a light toss. Then, for each individual salad, once they were plated, I put just a few more on top of each, for color and posterity... posterity? eh.

Now, (again) the feta cheese. All the while I was making this salad I was saying to myself 'don't forget the feta'. I actually can't even remember if the original salad had feta, but darn tootin', I did not want to forget the feta. So, what did I do? I forgot the feta. Actually the salad was really good without it. I didn't even notice it was missing until I was going back to my recipe note book to jot down some notes. It was then that the feta popped back in to my mind. That being said, if you want feta, sprinkle a little on top of each salad. If you don't want feta, it will look like the pictures you see here... either way it will be delicious!!

As I said, to plate I toss in a large bowl as described above, then transfer to each plate, garnish with a few more olives and some feta, if you so choose. Offer dressing on the side, if you like to give your guests the option of 'swimming' their salad.

This would be a great 'ladies who lunch' salad but hearty enough for even the biggest of appetites... ahem, Honey :)


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