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The Virtual Picnic: Suzanne’s Salads

It’s Memorial Day.  A day set aside for Americans to honor the U.S. men and women who have died while serving in the Armed Forces.  

Because Memorial Day falls on the last Monday of May, it’s also considered the unofficial start-date for picnic and barbeque season.  

Many companies host picnics and potlucks for their employees on Memorial Day, but since the Food Safety News team is spread out across the country, we’re having a “virtual potluck” for our first Memorial Day celebration.  Helena and Norah are bringing the main dishes–black bean burgers and barbequed chicken.  Michelle is bringing two sides–barbequed stuffed peppers and hummus.  Suzanne is bringing 3 sides–two pasta salads and a fruit and spinach salad.  And Dan is bringing drinks–gin and tonics–and dessert–probably something he’ll pick up at the store at the last minute.

We’re sharing our recipes here, so you can join in our virtual potluck or use them at your next one.  

Have a Safe Memorial Day Weekend!

The Food Safety News team.

Suzanne’s pasta salads and spinach and fruit salad

My friends always beg me to bring salads to their parties.  I never make anything the same way twice, so I’m not really sure why.  

I usually don’t measure, either.  

That changed this week when I was preparing my recipes for the Food Safety News virtual picnic.  I measured my ingredients for the first time in a couple of years.  Rest assured that if you try any of these recipes, measuring is not necessary.  

Basic Pasta Salad on a Bed of Spinach

wheel-pasta-salad-featured.jpg-2 cups dry pasta (like penne or rotini)
-1 tablespoon capers
-1 1/2 tablespoons sundried tomatoes
-1 cup artichoke hearts
-olive oil
-1 cup spinach
-1 tablespoon crumbled feta

Cook pasta in salted water.  Drain, and rinse with cold water.

Add capers, sundried tomatoes, and artichoke hearts, with a little bit of juice from each.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  If you need it, add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.*

Mix, and refrigerate overnight to let flavors blend.

Serve over a bed of spinach with feta sprinkled on top or mix the spinach and feta in before serving.

Serves 4 as a side-dish

* Excellent additions to this salad include olives–black or kalamata, fresh basil, and fresh cherry or grape tomatoes.  Anything with color certainly adds to the look of this salad.  If you’re looking for a meat option, you can always add chicken.

Pasta Salad with Eggplant and Asparagus

eggplant-pasta-featured.jpg-1 1/2 cups dry pasta (like penne)
-1 1/2  cups Chinese eggplant, cut length-wise, then into 1/2-inch half-circles
-2 cups fresh asparagus, cut into 1 to -1 1/2-inch pieces**
-4 garlic cloves, smashed (or more, if you love garlic)
-1/3 cup olive oil
-salt and pepper to taste
-1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
-1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Boil water for pasta.  As you wait for the water to boil, saute the crushed garlic cloves in 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan on medium-high heat, releasing the oils.  When it is browned, remove the garlic from the pan, leaving the oil behind.  

Add a couple more tablespoons of oil to the frying pan and as you add the pasta to the boiling water, and when it’s hot begin frying the asparagus.  After 3-5 minutes, add the rest of the oil and the eggplant to the frying pain.  Stir frequently.

When the pasta is finished, the eggplant and asparagus should be, too.  If you notice they’re getting done too early, make sure to take them off the heat.

Drain the pasta and add it to the frying pan with the asparagus and eggplant.  If necessary, add more olive oil so the pasta is covered.  

Add salt and pepper to taste along with the cherry or grape tomatoes.  Mix.

Sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese just before serving.

Serves 4-6 as a side dish.

**Note:  Asparagus stocks have a natural breaking point.  Use only the top part of the asparagus, which is what’s left after you “snap” the stock at the breaking point.  Thick asparagus takes about 10 minutes to cook.  Thinner asparagus cooks for less time, so gauge how much time you need based on how thick your asparagus is.  The goal is to have the asparagus and eggplant finish cooking just as you drain your pasta.

Spinach Salad with Fruit and Nuts

fruit-salad-featured.jpg-2 cups fresh baby spinach
-1 cup mandarin orange sections, drained if canned
-1 cup blueberries
-1/2 cup dried cranberries
-1 1/2 cups strawberries, sliced
-2 ounces feta
-1/2 cup candied pecans (see recipe, below)
-olive oil
-balsamic vinegar

Place spinach in serving bowl.

Mix oranges, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, feta, and pecans, and pour the mixture over the spinach.

Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Serves 4

Candied Pecans

pecans-featured.jpg2 cups pecan halves
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (or to taste
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste
1/4 cup olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 350 F

Mix pecans, sugar, and spices in bowl with olive oil.  Place evenly on cookie sheet.

Bake for 10 minutes on top rack of oven.  

Cool and serve or refrigerate. 

© Food Safety News
  • Mary

    I love the virtual picnic! Great idea, and great recipes!