Pasta Salad

Glancing over recipes cards is like rummaging through old memories. Some feathered, folded and frayed, splattered with sweet reminiscences, and aged with wisdom. Passed down from one to another, like heirlooms, entrusting the legacy of family dishes. There are also those recipes that are new, only existing in your handwriting, being perfected for generations to come. One of these recipes is pasta salad.

Growing up on Cajun fare, pasta rarely showed up on the menu. Crawfish fettuccini and lasagna were the only dishes my mother made with pasta, but secretly I craved Italian cuisine. So, whenever I found myself home alone in my sophomore year of high school, I needed to learn how to feed myself (sans pop tarts and cereal.) Thus began my love affair with pasta.

During my sophomore year, an unexpected event crept into my life. Found on my spine was a bone tumor, which broke a bone in my back. Within a few months, the tumor was removed, and I found myself recovering for months at home. After a few days of sitting at my abode, sick of toast, cereal and leftovers, I ventured into the pantry to find a humble box of pasta salad. It wasn’t anything fancy, just a box of spiral pasta with a packet of dried herbs that called for half a bottle of Kraft Italian dressing. After a few days, I began adding fresh tomatoes and herbs from our garden to the boxed pasta salad. This salad became my daily fare, the sustenance I needed during my recovery.

So, as I look over this pasta salad recipe, written in my handwriting, I find myself lost in the memory of being alone in the kitchen, perfecting this recipe, and the adventure of what it meant to create something of my own. Today I share this updated version of my boxed pasta salad with you, a recipe card I will forever hold close to my heart and always in my pocket for safekeeping.

Recipe: Serves 4 as a side
Note: You can use any type of tomato in this recipe. Beefsteak, cherry, grape or homegrown are great in this salad. You can also do a variety of tomatoes if you like!

½ pound of penne pasta (or any other shaped pasta like bowtie or shell)

1 pound of tomatoes, seeded

4 tablespoons of olive oil

2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 pinch of red pepper flakes

¼ cup of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped, leaves only

Salt and pepper to taste

Parmesan cheese shavings, to garnish

Boil the pasta in salted water until al dente and drain well. Set aside.

Set up a mesh strainer onto a medium-sized bowl.

Dice larger tomatoes, such as homegrown or beefsteak, and if you are using grape or cherry tomatoes, slice in half. Place the tomatoes in the mesh strainer and sprinkle with salt (about 1 teaspoon or so should do.) At this point, the salt is not just for seasoning but drawing the moisture out of the tomatoes. Let the tomatoes sit in the strainer for at least 10 minutes, slightly squeezing the tomatoes with your hand every once in a while, coaxing the water out of the tomatoes. Allowing the tomatoes to drain this way will leave you with a more concentrated tomato flavor for your pasta salad.

Meanwhile, whisk together olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a small container (or shake all the ingredients together in a Mason jar.) Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste.

After the tomatoes have been sitting in the strainer for at least 10 minutes, place tomatoes in a large mixing bowl and discard any juice that came from the tomatoes. Add the finely chopped parsley and dressing to the bowl. Mix to combine. Add the pasta to the mixing bowl and toss again until all of the pasta is covered with the dressing and tomatoes. Top with Parmesan cheese shavings and serve. Enjoy!


An Enchanted Tomato Sandwich

First of all, I must say thank you to Bon Appétit for posting my open-faced tomato sandwich on The Feed here, along with many other talented readers. Thank you!

There are many forms of cruel and unusual punishment in this harsh world, but none come close to eating a sandwich left in a plastic bag in the Louisiana heat until high noon. There I sat, in my faded jean shorts and favorite Winnie the Pooh tee shirt, staring down my soggy, sorry excuse for a sarnie. I could see the steam from the amalgamation of Wonder bread and humidity as it filled the inside of the plastic bag. Slowly, I opened the curiously terrifying container. One by one, the little snaps of the Ziploc bag crackled away to the force of my fingers and by shear will. And then, the showstopper. The smell of hot, French’s mustard and soggy bread with just a hint of hammy-hammy-ness filled my innocent nostrils. I cringed as if someone had jammed 20 Flintstone vitamins into my mouth, not even the somewhat tolerable orange ones, THE PURPLE ONES.  Reluctantly, I ate my not-so-wonderful-Wonder bread sandwich in pea-sized pieces, while staring sadly at the line of chips and cookies that were strewn across my cafeteria table. Oh how I longed for a Lunchable!

By the time I got home, I was ravenous. Running off the bus and onto the lawn, I threw my backpack into the yard, and I gave a good tug on the screen door of our house. I was in the fridge by the time I heard it close shut. BANG! The cast of characters was meticulously laid out: bread, mayonnaise and freshly cut tomatoes.  Taking one bite of the creamy tomato sandwich magically erased the Hitchcock-level horror from earlier that day. And there I relaxed, sitting in front of the television laughing at an episode of I Love Lucy with a tomato sandwich. Life was good.

This recipe is a more grownup version of my childhood go-to sandwich. It still has the same enchanted effect of changing a terrible day into a great one.

Recipe: Serves 1 Hungry Soul

Toast up 2 pieces of bread. Add 2-3 slabs of feta cheese onto the toast. Add 2 tomato slices on top of the cheese. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Garnish with fresh herbs. Place the second piece of toast on top and enjoy!



Roasted Salmon



Thank you so much to Bon Appétit for choosing my salmon photo for the June 2012 Cook the Cover Contest!

Growing up on the coast, there was beautiful and fresh seafood aplenty! This bright dish reminds me of home. Baby tomatoes and garden-picked herbs create a stunning backdrop to this slow roasted buttery salmon. This is the quintessential summer dish!

Here is the link for the slideshow of all the winners posted on both the Facebook page and their website…

Recipe: Serves 2

2 salmon fillets, single servings

3 tablespoons of olive oil

1 bunch of thyme

1 pint of grape tomatoes, split in half

Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 325o

Place herbs on a piece of foil, place fillets on top of herbs. Cover the salmon with olive oil; making sure all of the fish is covered in oil. Season with salt and pepper. Scatter the tomatoes around the fish and place another piece of foil on top of the salmon. Crimp all of the edges of the foil, creating a packet. Place the foil packet onto a cookie sheet and roast for 25-30 minutes, or until a knife goes through the salmon like butter. Enjoy!