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Asparagus and Blue Cheese Pasta Salad

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I make this salad every year when the asparagus is at its most plentiful. It makes a large batch, but it doesn’t last long. Asparagus and blue cheese are really made for each other – the salty tang of the cheese perfectly counterbalancing the fresh green crunch of the young shoots. This is an ideal and very simple early summer salad.

Ingredients:

500g mezze penne or penne pasta

3 bunches slender asparagus (about 750g), cut in segments the same length as the pasta

1 small red onion, diced

150g Danish blue cheese, crumbled

Juice of 1 lemon

1/2 C extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Optional: 1 small bunch chives, thinly sliced, and/or 1 small bunch parsley, chopped

Method:

Cook pasta in a large pot of well-salted water. When the pasta is nearly al dente (about 9 mins depending upon the brand of pasta), add the asparagus to the same pot, and cook 3-4 minutes until just done. Drain the whole lot in a colander and cool quickly under running cold water so that it doesn’t cook further. I then transfer the whole lot back to the pot to mix it all up. Add the remaining ingredients and stir together.

Served fresh, the flavours are sprightly and the onions strong. The onions will mellow on the next day, as will the lemon flavour. From the salad’s second day of life, serve it up with a wedge of lemon to restore its bright citrus character.

Borani-e-Labu (Roasted Beets with Yoghurt)

Borani-e-labu with spinach borani – see Mostafa’s comment below for the recipe. Thanks, Mostafa!

This simple Persian dish can be elevated slightly with a minced clove of garlic and a sprinkle of salt.

If I’m firing up the oven, I always try to throw in some extra vegetables to roast, and beets are perfect for slicing into salad or serving up with skordalia. A roasted head of garlic never goes amiss tossed into mashed potatoes. Refrigerate them and then use when needed. I use a heavy iron terrine pan for garlic and beets to roast in.

Preheat the oven to 190C

Ingredients:

5 or 6 medium sized beets or 2 large ones

1 1/2 C yoghurt (I use the best brand of Greek yoghurt)

1 small bunch mint

Method:

Roast the beets for an hour if small and 1 1/2 hours if large in a covered pan or earthenware pot. Let cool to room temperature, slip them out of their skins, and dice them. After you’ve washed your little pink fingers, stir them together with the yoghurt and top with torn mint and a sprinkle of sea salt.