Saturday, July 30, 2011

It Makes Me Think of Summer

Summer.  Warm weather.  Long days.  And food.  Food.  Food!

I love the bounty of the summer harvest.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, nectarines, corn, peaches, and more and more tomatoes!

So what's a girl to do with so much fresh veg?  Why make a pasta dish of course!  Greek/Mediterranean pasta salads scream of summer, so I eat as much of it as I can when tomatoes are at their peak.  First let's take a quick gander at how we should build a foundation for this amazing pasta salad...

There are so many types of pastas, so how do you choose the right kind?  The shape and size of pasta determines what kind of dish and sauce it is supposed to be used for.  The more nooks and crannies there are, e.g. gigli (lily-shaped) & quadrefiore, the heavier and meatier the sauce should be---and not particularly ideal for pasta salads.  For more dainty noodles like angel hair, sauces should be lighter and probably meatless, which is why it is so deliciously ideal for a coating with fruity olive oil and tossed with chopped tomatoes, basil, and garlic.  Short noodles like farfalle and penne are good in pasta salads where the other ingredients in the dish are roughly the same size as the noodle.

But if you get lazy, I say angel hair is best because the noodles are so skinny that they cook in about half the time of other pastas.  The less time I have to stand over a pot of boiling water fishing out noodles to test for that "al dente" perfection, the better.  Once the pasta is cooked, I drain it and immediately drizzle it with olive oil to prevent it from sticking in one giant clump.

My pasta salads always include tomatoes (I prefer grape tomatoes or heirloom tomatoes), cucumbers (hothouse, English, or Persian), and the best extra virgin olive oil I can get my hands on.  I usually try to get feta cheese in there, and generally match my feta to whatever else I'm including in the dish.  Imported Greek feta tends to be very briny can be overwhelming when paired with green olives, kalamata olives, or capers.  I usually try to get a milder feta such as French, Bulgarian, or domestic feta.  Don't get me wrong, I love Greek feta, but I try to dial down the salt content where I can.  I mostly just use the feta for the creamy texture it gets with olive oil when it's allowed to warm up to room temp.

Depending on what else I have, I will toss in some combination of bell peppers, roasted peppers, pepperoncinis, capers, dill, garlic, and lemon juice.  It's very forgiving and is a great way to use up random veg you might have lurking in the fridge.

Another recipe I love to indulge in, especially during the summer when our lemon tree is in overdrive, is baking fish with some olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Most fish fillets bake in about 10 minutes which is great.  After I pull the fish out of the oven, I squeeze some lemon juice over it and add chopped dill.  For plating, I usually add a couple of slices lemon.

I love summer food and have even been self-indulgent enough to sneak away at lunch with coworkers to picnic by the bay and watch the planes across the water at SFO.

You'll have to excuse my coworker's gross feet ;)  But seriously, nothing makes me think of summer more than pasta salad, delicious baked fish, a side of marinated olives, and nectarines for dessert.


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