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What you need to know about COVID-19: August 7, 2020
The locally-grown asparagus has arrived, and oh what a treat it is.
When this much-loved vegetable is fresh from the fields, it tastes of spring, fresh air, and renewal. From the middle of May until the end of June, the verdant spears of asparagus are on my dinner table more often than not.
In my opinion, asparagus is one of the very best things that comes from the earth, and though its growing season is rather short, it means we have to savour every spear that comes into our kitchen. Whether it’s swirled in a pan with hot butter and garlic, roasted with olive oil and lemon, blitzed into soup, stirred into pasta or chopped into a salad, fresh, local asparagus is definitely something to be enjoyed while it’s available.
Pasta salads are synonymous with summer. You can make them in a multitude of ways, with pretty much anything you want. Pesto and peppers? Go for it. Chicken and artichokes? Okay! Chopped ham and cheddar? Sounds delicious.
Pasta salads are a really great way of cleaning out the fridge, and now you’ve found a use for that half-empty box of macaroni lingering in the back of the pantry.
I will admit that there are good pasta salads, and not so good pasta salads. You’ve likely run into both scenarios. The good ones are made with pasta that still has a bit of bite to it; it’s not boiled to death and falling apart. A good pasta salad will have heaps of flavour from fresh herbs, and a dressing that is a balance of fat and acidity.
There needs to be a crunch factor — all of the vegetables cannot be soft. This is where a stalk or two of celery, broccoli florets, or a handful of radishes come to the party. Then there has to be the fun add-ins — something that will take your pasta salad from a 7 up to a 10. These can include chopped bacon, sundried tomatoes, olives, cooked shrimp, fresh mozzarella, crunchy pine nuts, grilled sausage, pickled onions, crumbled feta, and so on and so forth.
Pasta salad may look its prettiest the day it’s made, but it often tastes better if it sits overnight in the fridge. The flavours are allowed to get to know each other a little better, and the overall taste improves greatly.
The best part about pasta salads is their portability. Going on a picnic this summer? Bring along a pasta salad.
This recipe is a dandy one, as the vegetables are added to the pasta pot at the end of the cooking time, so there’s no need to mess up more dishes. I love the combination of asparagus and peas, and there is no shortage of fresh herbs here.
The dressing is a creamy one, but it’s not super cloying, thanks to the Greek yogurt and Dijon. While I’ve used a good bit of mayo, it’s balanced out with plenty of lemon. Celery adds some crunch, though some fresh radishes would be great here too.
Sundried tomatoes are so 1990s, but I use them a lot in my cooking. I love the deep, rich tomato flavour they bring to a dish, and every bite with one on my fork is better than the one without it. And don’t throw away the oil. Use it as a base for pesto or salad dressings, and drizzle over grilled chicken or fish.
Asparagus and Pea Pasta Salad with Honey Dijon Dressing
2 1/2 cups macaroni or any other small pasta
12 oz fresh asparagus, tough ends removed, sliced on the bias into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
1 cup diced celery
2/3 cup sundried tomatoes (packed in oil), chopped
1/4 cup chopped dill
3 Tbsp chopped chives
3 Tbsp chopped parsley
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp mayonnaise
zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp full fat Greek yogurt
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp honey
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp hot sauce
1/4 tsp pepper
1. Cook the pasta according to package directions. During the last couple of minutes of cooking, plunge the asparagus into the water, then the peas. Cook for another minute until the pasta is al dente, then gently pour into a strainer. Rinse under cold running water until the pasta, asparagus, and peas are all cold. Drain, then gently toss into a large bowl.
2. Add the celery, sundried tomatoes, and herbs to the pasta bowl. Stir, then refrigerate for 15 minutes.
3. Whisk together the dressing ingredients. Pour over the pasta and mix well. Eat the pasta salad immediately or refrigerate for up to four days. Makes 6-8 servings.
Note: Use gluten-free pasta to make this recipe gluten-friendly.
Note: Other optional add-ins: chopped cooked bacon, chickpeas, shredded carrot, grated Parmesan cheese, crumbled feta.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020