Salad Days

Lucky us. Each week this month delivers the best of California farms, making us the envy of other states in the nation. Between truckloads of just-picked corn; vine-ripened tomatoes, sugar-sweet red strawberries, and juicy watermelon; eggplant, peppers, and green beans, each of my Saturday mornings begins with a trip to the ATM. With all the irresistible produce at the farmers’ market it’s easy to shop like the 1%…on a pauper’s budget.

Even though most of us limit kitchen-duty during the summer, that doesn’t stop Californians from entertaining with plenty of barbecues and picnics. Depending upon who’s in charge, though, this could be a good thing or a bad thing. A few tubs of preservative-laden side-dishes from the warehouse store do not a party make.

We’ve all been to those potlucks where you’re faced with a big bowl of over-cooked fusilli dotted with chopped ripe olives and shredded carrots or some other crazy jumble of unidentifiable chopped vegetables, all drowning bottled salad dressing. I usually take a small spoonful to be polite and then move on down the buffet line, silently praying for something better. The easiest way to avoid starvation at these affairs is to leave that bottle of wine at home—the host probably has plenty already—and bring something delicious to eat.

Homemade ravioli on kitchen wooden board

So here it is–one of my standby recipes for summer parties. I have been making versions of this salad for years, and always seem to receive compliments and recipe requests. And I never tire of it. (The salad. Or the compliments.)

In addition to actually tasting good and being moderately healthy, this salad has definite “curb appeal”—fresh and seasonal vegetables, with bright colors reminiscent of the Italian flag. It is so appealing in its simplicity, in fact, that I usually serve it on a large rimmed platter instead of in a bowl…just because it provides more surface to admire.

In order to keep the salad looking its best, try to assemble it only a few hours before serving. Conveniently, however, the various components can easily be prepared a day or two in advance. Whenever your kitchen is cool.

Pasta Salad 2.0
8 ounces fresh haricotsvert or other thin green beans, trimmed
12 ounces refrigerated or frozen cheese-filled pasta, such as tortelloni or tortellini*
8 ounces vine-ripened cherry tomatoes, halved if large
Yogurt Vinaigrette (recipe follows) or salad dressing of choice

1. Set a big bowl of ice water near the stove.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the haricotsvert and let the water return to a boil. Cook for 1 to 3 minutes (depending upon the size of the beans) just until they are bright green and crisp-tender. Remove the beans with a slotted spoon and immediately plunge them into the bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and set the color. When cool, lift the beans out of the water with a slotted spoon and drain in a colander. Add more ice to the bowl of water.

3. Once again bring the same pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions. Remove the pasta with the slotted spoon and plunge into the bowl of ice water. When it is cool, drain well in a colander.

4. To serve: In a large bowl, combine the green beans, pasta, and cherry tomatoes. Add just enough Yogurt Vinaigrette to moisten, usually about 1/4 cup.(Start small, and add more dressing if needed. You want the dressing to coat the ingredients only enough to glisten.)Serves 8 as part of a buffet.

*I recently made this using store-bought ravioli filled with creamy ricotta cheese and Sicilian lemon zest. Oh yeah.

Yogurt Vinaigrette
A number of variables determine how much dressing the salad will require, and it seems I always have some left over. But that is actually a bonus. In addition to being a terrific all-purpose salad dressing, this makes an excellent marinade for chicken, and the perfect finishing touch to drizzle over any cooked veggies.

2 heaping tablespoons plain yogurt
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon local honey
1 large garlic clove, minced or crushed through a press
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/8 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco
1/3 cup California olive oil

In a small bowl, combine the yogurt, vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, honey, garlic, salt, and hot pepper sauce. Whisk gently to mix. Gradually whisk in the oil until well blended. Taste, adding more salt if needed. Use at once, or cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad and Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at s1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well!

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