Friday, May 25, 2012

It's Memorial Day -- Are You Having a BBQ?

Traditionally, Memorial Day means BBQ. All the grocery stores and supermarkets tout this as one of the biggest grilling days of the year, and everyone has their favorites--burgers and dogs, chicken, steaks, even fish. But whatever you grill, you will need to have some side dishes (man does not live on meat alone!). Of course, tradition plays a role here as well, with potato salad and cole slaw leading the pack. However, may I suggest something a little different, something a little out of the ordinary, but not so unusual as to turn off your guests. One of my favorite side dishes (or light meal, it's just that versatile!), is a Roasted Vegetable Pasta Salad. It has the added benefit of being both a grains and a vegetable course in one bowl. Whole wheat pasta is also an option to pump up the protein and fiber.

The original recipe called for orzo pasta, but I made it here with "farfellini"--miniature bow ties. Any shape will work, but something small allows the diner to get a sampling of tastes on the fork at the same time. And you don't want anyone to miss any of the fragrant, flavorful ingredients which, in addition to the roasted vegetables, include feta cheese, toasted pine nuts and a wonderful lemon vinaigrette. Of course, this is open to interpretation. I suggest my favorite vegetables for roasting, but feel free to swap in yours--just be sure that everything is well cooked and caramelized. I use pine nuts, but chopped walnuts or sliced almonds would work as well if that is your preference. Whatever you do, don't leave out the feta, as the intense salty flavor really pumps up this salad. The original recipe used only the juice from the fresh lemons, but I zest the lemons before juicing which I think adds much more robust lemon flavor to the dressing. This salad gets better as it sits, making it a perfect make ahead--just don't add the shredded basil and nuts until immediately before serving.

Roasted Vegetable Pasta Salad
Serves: at least 6 to 8
Oven Temperature: 425°

Ingredients: (Quantities are approximate)
3 lbs. of the following in any combination: red & green peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, asparagus, mushrooms, red onion, all cut into 1 inch dice
3 cloves garlic, minced or grated
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 lb. orzo or other small pasta, cooked & hot
grated rind & juice from 2 to 3 lemons, approximately 1⁄3 cup juice
1⁄3 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 oz. feta cheese, crumbled or cubed
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
salt & pepper, to taste

Toss all vegetables with olive oil and garlic. Roast vegetables in a single layer in a baking pan (in batches if necessary) at 425° for 35 to 40 minutes until cooked and beginning to caramelize. Pour veggies into large serving bowl as they are cooked. Once all veggies are cooked, boil pasta in salted water until tender. Add to bowl with veggies. In a separate small bowl, blend lemon juice, lemon rind, salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil. Pour over veggies and pasta, stirring gently to coat everything with the dressing. Stir in the feta cheese and scallions. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Immediately before serving, add the torn basil leaves and toasted pine nuts.

Notes & Pointers:
Quantities given are just a starting point. Don't be scared off by the 3 pounds of veggies, as they will lose most of their moisture and cook down quite a bit by the time they are caramelized. Be sure to salt this dish at the very end as the feta adds quite a bit of salt.

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