Monday, August 8, 2016

Calabaza Pasta and Garden Vegetable Salad with Cilantro Lemon Vinaigrette

     A Healthy Summer Salad!
     Pasta Salad was a popular item when it was novel and new a few decades ago.  Chefs at trendy cafés created a well balanced pasta salad with a vinaigrette to match.  As time moved on, nearly every restaurant offered a pasta salad.  As one can guess, the overall quality and appeal of pasta salad declined.
     A pasta salad that is made with a bottled pre-made vinaigrette will only taste as good as the dressing product.  When overcooked pasta is used, the appeal of this salad goes downhill fast.  When the same old combination of carrot, celery, broccoli and zucchini are added to this salad, it will not take long for guests to become bored.  A pasta salad that is made with 95% pasta and 5% vegetables is out of balance from a carbohydrate intake standpoint.  These are some of the reasons why pasta salad lost its overwhelming appeal long before its time.
     A pasta salad is a tossed salad.  The dressing should be designed for the salad.  Any salad is best, when it is made to order or when tossed with dressing shortly before it is served.  A pasta salad that has a high percentage of vegetables and lettuce greens is best from a nutrition standpoint.  Most important of all, the pasta should not be overcooked.  When following these guidelines, pasta salad can be appealing once again, just like it was back when pasta salad was novel and new.
     There are a few more pointers that can enhance pasta salad.  Large pieces of garden vegetables provide a better dining experience than trying to eat tiny bits of hard vegetables that lie on the bottom of the salad bowl after the pasta is gone.  Eating tiny salad vegetables with a spoon is not really what the pasta salad experience is meant to be.
     Most pasta salads lack lettuce, unless a large leaf of lettuce is used to line the plate.  The lack of crisp lettuce greens is a sign that a pasta salad was made way ahead of time.  Crispy firm fresh lettuce is perfect for a pasta salad.  Endive Lettuce is a good choice.
     Many vegetables need to be blanched, before being added to a pasta salad.  Green beans and asparagus are two examples.  Uncooked summer squash or zucchini in a pasta salad is not exactly exciting to taste.  It is better to lightly grill squash to increase flavor.
     Rotini is not the only choice of pasta for a salad.  There are many fine artisan pastas with interesting shapes that are well suited for pasta salad.  Alternative grain pastas that are made with durham wheat flour, quinoa flour or black rice flout are good nutritious choices.  I chose to use some calabaza shaped artisan pasta for today's salad.  The Mexican pumpkin shape of this pasta looks great with the garden vegetables!
     Calabaza Pasta:
     Like many cup shaped artisan pastas, Calabaza Pasta can be difficult to cook.  Some brands of Calabaza Pasta are designed with thick gauge pumpkin walls, so there is less broken pasta after cooking.  If you choose a Calabaza Pasta that has thin pasta walls, then be prepared for a fairly high percentage of broken pasta pieces.  It is best to cook more thin gauge Calabaza Pasta than what is needed, so a full portion of unbroken pasta can be salvaged!
     Not all artisan pastas are designed by experienced chefs!  Sometimes the fault lies in the artisan pasta design, when there is a high percentage of broken pasta.  Keep this in mind and do not blame your own good pasta cooking techniques, if an artisan pasta breaks apart more than expected.  
     Step 1:  Cook 1 medium size portion of calabaza pasta in boiling salted water till it is al dente.
     Set the pot under gently running cold water.
     Allow the pasta to completely cool.
     Drain the water off of the pasta and set it aside.
     Cilantro Lemon Vinaigrette: 
     This recipe yields 1 portion.  (About 1/5 cup)
     Vinaigrettes are classified as emulsified, semi emulsified and loose stirred.  This recipe is a loose stirred vinaigrette!
     Step 1:  Place 1/2 teaspoon of red wine vinegar in a small mixing bowl.
     Add 2 teaspoons of lemon juice.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of minced garlic.
     Add 1 teaspoon of finely chopped cilantro.
     Add 1 pinch of sea salt and black pepper.
     Stir the ingredients.
     Set the mixture aside for 5 minutes, so the flavors meld.
     Step 2:  Add 1 tablespoon of virgin olive oil, while stirring.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of pomace olive oil, while stirring.
     Set the loose vinaigrette aside.
     Stir the vinaigrette before serving.
     Calabaza Pasta and Garden Vegetable Salad with Cilantro Lemon Vinaigrette: 
     This recipe yields 1 salad entrée.
     Step 1:  Place a sauce pot of salted water over high heat.
     Bring the water to a boil.
     Add 8 asparagus tips.
     Add 1/3 cup of thin sliced tender asparagus stalks.  (Only peel the tender stalk section if the skin is thick and fibrous.)
     Add 6 green beans that are cut into 1" long pieces.
     Blanch the vegetables till they start to become tender and they still have a crisp bite.  (al dente)
     Step 2:  Drain the hot water off of the vegetables.
     Cool the vegetables in ice water.
     Drain the cold water off of the blanched vegetables.
     Step 3:  Place the blanched asparagus and green beans in a mixing bowl.
     Add 3/4 cup of large bite size pieces of endive lettuce.
     Add 1/4 cup of thin bias sliced carrot.
     Add 1/4 cup of thin bias sliced celery.
     Add few small bite size pieces of bermuda onion.
     Add 1/3 cup of small bite size tomato wedges.
     Add 1/4 cup of green bell pepper strips.
     Add 1/2 of a green onion that is thin bias sliced.
     Add the prepared Calabaza Pasta.
     Step 4:  Add enough of the Cilantro Lemon Vinaigrette to lightly coat the ingredients with flavor.  (About 3 tablespoons)
     Gently toss the ingredients together.
     Step 5:  Mound the pasta salad tall in a shallow salad bowl.
     Garnish with a cilantro sprig.
     The flavor of the Cilantro Lemon Vinaigrette is light, crisp and refreshing.  Calabaza Pasta really looks nice in a pasta salad.  The high percentage of vegetables in this healthy pasta salad is easily noticed!    

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