This weekend is all about the barbeques, stoops, beers, and friends. Depending on where you live, your stoop may be your backyard or a park or a beach. Here in Brooklyn, we have our stoops to settle into for the season. Once you have your BBQ itinerary sorted out, the next decision is what you will bring as your offering. Many of us have our cookout favs that we make every year (my sister has been making artichoke dip since middle school) and I’m not saying this bad–I’m saying, let’s try something different! Change is good! Here are a few tips that will always yield a smile-worthy bite. People will look for you to tell you how amazing your pasta salad is/was, if there’s any left…
1) Pasta: Al dente! Not mushy! Use ANY kind you want. I mean, don’t go crazy with lasagne, that’ just not applicable. I love penne & orzo. Israeli cous cous is great, too. I would stay away from long noodles like spaghetti or linguine because the less surface area, the less the flavors will soak in. With the long pasta, your yummy fixin’s tend to fall to the bottom of the bowl and with tons of people diving in, these pastas are hard to manipulate. With the smaller pastas, a big spoon can scoop up the perfect amount to put on their paper plates. Try using rice or soba noodles too for an asian flare. I often whip up a sesame garlic vinaigrette to make an insta-asian pasta salad. Filled pastas are always a crowd favorite. I made the salad pictured above last week– Tortellini, Cucumber, Piquillo Pepper, Fresh Corn, Chopped Parsley, & Chive Vinaigrette. What!
2.) Vinaigrette/Dressing: If you have been following Skimkim Yummies, you have already mastered this! Check it. If not, you should! We are all familiar with the mayo-laden, overly sweet, too oniony crap that sits at most any BBQ. This is not what I’m ‘splainin’ to you. Just whip up any kind of vinaigrette and stick to the same flavor profile. If you are in a hurry, I won’t tell if you buy a quality dressing from the store. Just do yourself a favor and make it a good one. Sometimes, you want a creamy version, just keep in mind, it may be sitting outside for awhile and dairy doesn’t hold well in heat and open air.
3.) Veggies: Go crazy. Go fresh. Go heavy. DO NOT USE CANNED VEGETABLES. I will kill you. Spring is a virtual smorgasbord of new seasonal goodies. Radish, beets, asparagus, garlic (& scapes! see video below), ramps, fiddleheads…yeah. Crazy! If you go for all-around veggies, cucumbers, bell peppers, grape tomatoes (cut whole tomatoes make for a messy salad, avoid them), and corn are great. Olives are fruit and add depth and flavor. Capers are the pickled bud of a flower and also complement a salad. Go easy on these brined or pickled elements as they are really salty.
4.) Protein:Whether you go with meat or not, you have many options here. Grilled chicken or steak amp this up proper but this can get expensive. I often throw in beans or nuts. Chick peas, black beans, walnuts, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), flax seed…the list goes on. These serve as a valuable source of protein but also add texture. Sometimes, I add crumbly cheese, like feta or roquefort, but again, the dairy in the heat thing, may not be a good idea. Try it when you’re having a dinner party inside, though. Avoid soy. I hate to say this, but soy is not good for you. I know, I know. I just flipped some of y’all’s worlds upside down. And please, stay away from the fake meats. That shit is unnatural.
5.) Herbs: Fresh herbs are everywhere in the spring. Parsley, basil, thyme, marjoram, chives, scallions, sage, rosemary. I bought a crapload of potted herbs last month and they are going strong on my stoop. Lemon verbena, oregano, orange mint. Just buy a bag of quality potting soil and repot when you get home. You’ll have a summer full of exciting new flavors–grown by you. I wouldn’t recommend using dry herbs for pasta salads, they lack color and true flavor.
6.) S&P: After you’ve mixed all your fixin’s up, make sure to taste and season. I use crushed red pepper like it’s going out of style, too. It adds a little bit of pep, both in color and spice.
In writing this post, I have officially geeked out. I mean, spring is such a fruitful season, I just went crazy finding resources for you to check out. And like a kid in a candy store, I get so excited by new arrivals at the green markets. Just last week I had lovage on a menu for a cocktail party I did. Here are a few links that are useful for the coming season:
- A list of green markets in US, UK, Canada, & Australia
- New York harvests & produce availability
- What’s fresh and ripe where you live, right now
- List of culinary veggies
Here is a video about garlic scapes that I mentioned earlier (I’m a food dork.):
- Mama’s Kitchen: Fresh Tomato & Mushroom Sauce and Garden Salad
- Skimkim Yummies: Pestos
- Skimkim Yummies: Vibrant Vinaigrette
- Mama’s Kitchen: Fresh Pesto
- M.I.S.S. Healthy Bites: Flower Power!