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  Pasta Salad...
from the Simple to the Sublime



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La Belle Cuisine


Pasta Salad... from the Simple to the Sublime
(Several years ago, at least, but the idea remains the same...)

Had a great conversation with Keegan (my son, the esteemed pastry
chef!) the other day. Talked about all kinds of things, as mothers and
sons are wont to do. Eventually the topic turned to things culinary.
How could it not, given that we are who we are, he and I?

“Mom,” he says, “you know what I’m hungry for?”

“No, what?  Kraft macaroni and cheese (family joke)?”

“Nope. Actually, I’m hungry for your Tuna Macaroni Salad…”

I’m giggling myself silly, right. Tuna Macaroni Salad indeed. First of all,
I’d been considering what I could throw together for a quick and easy
light supper. Had decided on Tuna Macaroni Salad. How did he know?
Plus which, this is a man who knows his foie gras, who has an incredibly sophisticated palate, who appreciates fine cuisine as only a truly excellent
chef can. Who can throw together a Croquembouche with one hand tied
behind his back. And maybe even blindfolded. And he wants my recipe
for Tuna Macaroni Salad. Go figure...

“Mom, really, that’s what I’m hungry for. We want to make some for
dinner tonight…”

Well, I do declare. Out of all the things he could have for dinner, he
wants Tuna Macaroni Salad. When I stopped to think about it, I recalled
once again that Chef Keegan’s taste had always leaned toward simple,
delicious comfort food:  macaroni and cheese, meat loaf, pancakes,
mashed potatoes, pound cake

 So, okay, here it is, as best as I can pass it along. I’ve never measured any
of the ingredients, because it’s just something I throw together, just as my grandmother did.


Mom's Tuna Macaroni Salad

 1/2 pound macaroni (I use small sea shells
these days, or elbow)
1 small onion, minced (or 1 bunch
scallions, depending)
 3 small stalks celery (tender inside stalks,
including leaves), minced
2 cans oil-packed tuna, drained very well
3 hard-boiled eggs, finely chopped
1/4 cup or so sweet pickle relish
(or not, depending on my mood -
my grandmother always included it)
Fresh parsley leaves, minced (or parsley flakes)
Fresh chives, chopped  (or freeze-dried)
Other fresh herbs, depending on
availability and my mood
Salt, pepper, and Creole
Seasoning to taste
Mayonnaise – or – a combination of
mayonnaise and homemade ranch
dressing, using just enough to hold
the salad together

 Cook the macaroni al dente in boiling salted water (add a dollop of oil if you like), and drain it well. Rinse the macaroni thoroughly with cold water and
drain it again. Place it in a large mixing bowl. Add all other ingredients and
combine well. Serve at room temperature. Serves 4 or so.

 There you have it. Nothing to it really, but my family has always loved it.

 “So Keegan, what have you been cooking lately, at home?”

 “Well, nothing much. Certainly nothing spectacular. I did throw together a
pretty darned yummy orzo salad the other day, Mom. Maybe you’d like
to try it?”

 “You know I would!”

 Based on Chef Keegan’s narrative, this is approximately what I cooked
for dinner last night.  Excellent!  Received rave reviews all around:


 Chef Keegan’s Orzo and Grilled Chicken Salad

 1/2 pound orzo
3 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
Marinade of your choice (see below
for my favorite)
1 bunch scallions
8 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 red bell pepper, roasted, chopped
Pesto (see note below) *
Feta cheese, about 4 ounces, crumbled

A couple of hours or so before you’re ready to make the salad, place the
chicken breasts in a shallow glass (or non-reactive metal) dish, or in a seal-
able plastic bag. Add the marinade and set aside at room temperature.
When you’re ready to get serious (but not too serious, of course, as this is a
fun dish!) cook the orzo al dente in boiling salted water (add a dollop of oil
if you like). Drain it well, rinse it thoroughly with cold water and drain again. Place the orzp in a large mixing bowl. Add the scallions, mushrooms, roasted pepper, and pesto so the flavors can become better acquainted while you grill
the chicken.
If you’re a purist, or if you’re really into grilling (like a certain Major of our  acquaintance), you’ll want to actually fire up the grill. If not, you can do what
I did – get out your trusty Calphalon grill pan, coat it lightly with olive oil, and crank up the heat. I like to cut the chicken breasts into strips before grilling, as that adds to the wonderful smoky flavor – the whole purpose of grilling, right? Okay. Grill the chicken until it’s good and brown – at least a tad charred. Add the chicken strips to the pasta, and toss in the well-drained, crumbled feta cheese. Eat. Relax, and enjoy!

* About the pesto. The purchased variety will work okay here, if that’s your inclination. You’ll need about a cup. I find the flavor somewhat lacking in
every brand I’ve tried thus far. Making pesto from scratch it not at all dif-
ficult, and not really time-consuming either. I’m assuming here that you
enjoy cooking, or you wouldn’t be visiting La Belle Cuisine anyway.
Right? I thought so.

Here’s what I did. While I was in Huntsville recently, I spent a consider-
able amount of very pleasant time browsing through the shelves of the
Publix supermarket. I discovered a wonderful thing called “Marjon (brand)
Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto with Elephant Garlic”. It even has pine nuts. A
tad pricey, perhaps, but worth the money. It’s a dried mix, requiring only
that you add water and allow it to stand about 20 minutes or so prior to
processing it briefly in the processor or blender. It’s marvelous!

So, what do you do if you don’t want to used purchased pesto, and
aren’t fortunate enough to find the above-mentioned brand of dried
mix in your local supermarket? No problem. Just make up a batch:

 Chez Ray’s Pesto Perfecto
Copyright, 1998, Raymond G. DeForest Jr., All rights reserved

 2 cups fresh basil leaves, thoroughly
washed and patted dry
4 good size garlic cloves, peeled
and chopped
1 cup pine nuts
1 cup virgin olive oil
1 1/4 cups freshly grated Pecorino
Romano cheese
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

Place basil, garlic and pine nuts in food processor and chop finely. Leave processor running and add olive oil in a slow steady stream through feed
tube. Turn off the processor. Remove top and add cheese, a sprinkle of
salt and a good grinding of pepper. Replace top, and process to combine ingredients. Store in freezer or refrigerator in clean jars.
Yield: about 3 cups

Hints for success:

Buy the best olive oil you can. Check the label; the best are labeled cold-
pressed and extra-virgin. Cold pressing is chemical free, and extra-virgin is
only 1 percent acid.
Make sure the cheese says "Pecorino." This means the cheese is make
from sheep's milk instead of cow's milk or a mixture of several types
of milk, and has been aged for at least 8 months.
A food processor makes this an easy and quick dish to make. There are
many types of pine nuts or "pignoli" available in the stores today. There
are domestically grown, Chinese (stronger in flavor), and Italian (light and
delicate). Try them all and use what your taste dictates. I like the domestic
and Italian; the Chinese are too strong for this use.
Pine nuts turn rancid quickly. Store them airtight in the freezer for up to
9 months.


The Only Marinade You’ll Ever Need

Barbecue Bible:
Sauces, Rubs and Marinades,
Bastes, Butters & Glazes

Steven Raichlen, 2000, Workman Publishing

“If I could use only one marinade for the rest of my life, it would be this one.
Redolent with garlic, piquant with fresh lemon juice, and fragrant with extra
virgin olive oil, it instantly transports you to the Mediterranean. I can't think
of a single food that doesn't taste better bathed in it. You can use it as both a
marinade and a basting sauce. If marinating poultry, meat, or seafood, simply
set a portion aside for basting.”

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt (kosher or sea),
or to taste
4 strips of lemon zest
3 cloves garlic, crushed with the
side of a cleaver or minced
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil,
cilantro, dill, oregano, or a mix of all four
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine the lemon juice, hot pepper flakes, cracked pepper, and salt in a nonreactive  glass, ceramic, or stainless steel) bowl and whisk until the salt crystals are dissolved. Add the lemon zest, garlic, parsley and basil. Stir or
whisk in the olive oil. The virtue of this marinade is its freshness: Use it
within 1 to 2 hours of making. Stir again before using. Makes 1 cup.
Serves 4 to 6.

That’s it for today…..enjoy!
~ Michele

Don't miss these excellent pasta salads!
Chicken and Pasta Salad with Spinach
Chicken and Vegetable Pasta Salad
Grilled Vegetable and Pasta Salad with
Red Bell Pepper Dressing

Niçoise Orzo Salad
Pasta Salad with Spinach Pesto
Pasta with Sauce Niçoise
Tuna Pasta Salad (Josephine Rao)


"It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love,
are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think
of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I
am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the
love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and
fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one."

~ M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating icon icon



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