Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Mixed Greens Pasta Salad


Memorial Day is the unofficial start to the summer. Depending on where you live or how old you are, there are any number of tell tale signs of its glorious onset. Beaches and public pools officially open whether we are bathing suit ready or not; the population of beach towns swells with the arrival of the summer people; the aroma of food being cooked on outdoor grills permeates the air; piled high on tables at the farmer's markets are a wide array of fresh fruits and vegetables; pitchers of fruit filled sangria have a greater presence at gatherings; and, rule followers can freely wear white without fear of the ghosts of former etiquette matrons haunting them. Around here it also means the gardner (aka the person who shall remain nameless) has finished planting all of this season's annuals and herbs into the urns and hanging baskets; the mileage on my bicycle's odometer starts to see dramatic increases; the frequency of my whining escalates in anticipation of my long runs being on the hottest days; some of my favorite recipes (e.g., chocolate covered caramels) go on hiatus until cooler, less humid temperatures return while others return with a vengeance (e.g., blueberry crisp); and, I start to crave salads. And if this year's Memorial Day weekend weather is an omen of some sort, we should be having a wondrous summer here in the midwest. 


As soon as I came across the recipe for the Mixed Greens Salad in the June (2017) issue of Food and Wine I knew I would be making it. Sooner rather than later. Salads with pasta in them, especially ones with cone shaped fluted petal-like frilly edged pastas, are even harder to resist. With fresh asparagus still available at the farmer's market all of the salad making stars were aligned.


If there is one salad you want to be the stand-out at your next summer barbecue or gathering, this Mixed Greens Pasta Salad is a serious contender. Crisp vegetables and al dente campanelle (or gigli) pasta tossed with a creamy, light, tangy, mildly garlicy dressing are the epitome of what a flavorful, satisfying, crave worthy summer salad should be. It's a salad substantial enough to stand up as a main course as well as being the perfect accompaniment to grilled chicken, steak, fish, and even pizza.


At least in terms of its' size, this Mixed Greens Pasta Salad might be the kind of salad worthy of living up to Elaine's definition of a 'big salad' (click here for a Seinfeld episode clip). Because the recipe makes a really, really BIG salad. Enough to serve at least 10-12 people (as a side) or 6-8 (as a main course).


As far as salads go, this one comes together easily. And in spite the simplicity of the ingredients, it delivers as one seemingly much more complex.


Two cups of peas and a pound of trimmed asparagus cut into 1" or so pieces are blanched in boiling water until tender crisp. Two minutes is all it takes to get them salad ready.

Plunging the quick boiled vegetables into a bowl of ice water will ensure they retain their color vibrancy and crisp-tender texture.


The dressing is made with buttermilk, mayonnaise, champagne vinegar, minced garlic, and some kosher salt and pepper to taste. It can be made as you are assembling the salad or in advance (covered and refrigerated).


For the volume of pasta (original F&W recipe recommended using one pound of cooked pasta) and vegetables, the amount of dressing seemed to be slightly disproportional. While I am not at all suggesting this salad be drenched in dressing, having all of the vegetables lightly coated in it would make for an even more satisfying salad eating experience. So next time, I will make the the entire pound of pasta but initially use only 3/4 of it. If by chance, this reduction is 'too much' and the salad seems cloyingly overdressed, I will add a little bit more of the cooked pasta to get it to the still light, but having a slightly more discernible dressing presence.


The first step in assembling the salad is mixing half of the salad dressing (about 3/4 cup) with the drained, still warm al dente campanelle (or gigli) pasta. Once mixed together, the pasta needs to rest (cool) for about 30 minutes before the asparagus, peas, and remaining dressing are added in. The arugula is folded in to the salad at the end or right before serving. 


Once this 'big' Mixed Greens Pasta Salad is all mixed together, transfer to really big platter and serve. 


I couldn't stop eating this salad. Or rather, I didn't want to. The sweetness of the peas, the slight peppery taste of the arugula, the crunch of the asparagus, the texture of the pasta, and the just right amount of garlic in the dressing put it in the addictive salad category.


Aesthetically this is truly one of the most beautiful salads to ever grace a table. Part of its' visual allure is due to use of campanelle (or gigli) pasta. So whatever you do, I 'pretty please' beg you not to make a pasta substitution for this salad. It would be like wearing white before Memorial Day. You could do it, but it just wouldn't look right. I know what you may be thinking. Some rules are made to be broken or even a bit outdated. However, when it comes to this Mixed Greens Pasta Salad, there really should be a pasta rule. One with penalties for breaking.

If you are looking to change up your salad offerings for your summer gatherings or secretly seek to be the center of attention at the next barbecue, make this 'crazy good' Mixed Greens Pasta Salad. I almost guarantee it will get rave reviews. Don't be surprised if any of your family or friends claiming to have an aversion to peas take a second helping. Odds are it will be destined to make repeat appearances throughout the summer. 

Recipe
Mixed Greens Pasta Salad (Inspired by the Mixed Greens Salad recipe in Food & Wine, June 2017)
Serves 10-12 as a side dish, Serves 6-8 as a main dish

Ingredients
Dressing
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 Tablespoons Champagne vinegar
1 large garlic clove, minced or grated
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Salad
1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1" pieces
2 cups peas, fresh or frozen (Note: A 10 ounce bag of organic peas yielded two cups.)
3/4 - 1 pound campanelle or gigli pasta, cooked al dente 
4-6 ounces arugula, thick stems discarded and leaves coarsely chopped. See Note.
Kosher salt and black pepper

Directions
Dressing
1. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, mayonnaise, vinegar, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Note: Dressing can be made several hours or a day ahead.

Salad and Assembly
1. Set up an ice bath in large bowl.
2. Bring a saucepan of water to boiling. Add the peas and asparagus. Cook until crisp tender (approximately 2 minutes). Drain and transfer to ice bath to cool completely. Drain well.
3. Refill saucepan with water and return to a boil. Season water generously with sat. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Drain well and transfer to a large bowl.
4. Toss half (approximately 3/4 cup) of the dressing with the warm pasta. Let cool for 30 minutes.
5. Stir in asparagus, peas and remaining dressing. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Fold in arugula and serve.

Notes: (1) This was a very lightly coated salad. Would recommend using only 3/4 pound of the pasta to ensure all of the pasta and vegetables are evenly coated. (2) While the F&W recipe called for using regular sized arugula, I used an arugula slightly larger than baby, one without heavy stems. Instead of using 1/2 pound of arugula, used only 4 ounces and felt it was more than enough. However, after mixing your salad, add more to your liking. (3) If fresh peas are not available, use large sized frozen organic peas. They worked well. (4) The salad is best enjoyed immediately after fully assembled although it was still genuinely delicious after being chilled in the refrigerator overnight in spite of not having the freshly made creamy dressing finish (but this may have been due to the use of the full pound of pasta).


Memorial Day Weekend in Wilder Park 2017 (Elmhurst, IL)


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