Picnic recipes: the best pasta salad ever

A pasta salad popped out of a friend’s picnic bag at a wine tasting picnic I was at last weekend and it was delicious – just the right combo of saltiness (feta), crunchiness (cucumber) and soft creaminess (av0). Since then I’ve been so into pasta salads – they’re perfect for an easy dinner, cold lunch and of course, picnics. This is my ultimate pasta salad, but you can always add all manner of other goodies to this basic recipe.

 

Serves 6 generously

500 g small pasta shells
1 cucumber, chopped into smallish pieces
500 g rosa or cherry tomatoes, halves
2 mielies, cooked (I do this in the microwave) and kernels removed
Half a packed of black olives, pitted and chopped
1 yellow pepper, chopped into small pieces
1 red pepper, chopped into small pieces
120 g feta, chopped into small squares

Dressing:
Wholegrain mustard
Canola or olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Pinch of sugar

Cook the pasta and let it cool in a colander. Once it’s cooled down, pour into a large bowl and mix in all the ingredients. To make the dressing, combine about three tablespoons of oil with one or two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, a tablespoon of mustard, a pinch of sugar and lots of black pepper and shake up in a jam jar. These are not exact measurements though –  add more oil, vinegar or mustard to your taste. To transport the salad for a picnic, I keep the dressing in the jar and pour it on only when we get there.

Bruschette

Another of my Italian favourites – tomato bruschette. Nothing tastes more of summer than this antipasto – hints of garlic, ripe sweet tomatoes, fresh basil and lashings of olive oil. I could eat these every day in summer. For some reason, they taste better in Italy than they do at home. I think it’s something to do with the tomatoes – they just seem to have more flavour. I think bruschette are best when made in summer with fresh, ripe tomatoes rather than ones that have been in cold storage and taste a bit bland.

All you need to make tomato bruschette is a French baguette or ciabatta, which you slice, rub with a cut garlic clove, and toast under the grill (I love those charred grill lines). Cut up loads of tomato, and mix with lashings of good quality olive oil and a handful of roughly chopped basil. Pile the toasted bread up with the tomato mixture and that’s it. Simple and delicious.

Involtini di melanzane

Ok, here’s another aubergine recipe. I can’t get enough of these Italian aubergines! I had this starter the other night on the Amalfi Coast, and it was absolutely delicious. I know Italians are big on their involtini (rolls of beef with cheese inside) but I had never tried a vegetarian version. These aubergine rolls have provolone (the local Amalfian cheese) inside, which imparts a lovely smokey flavour. They really couldn’t be easier to make – there’s a bit of frying involved, and then not much else.

I got this recipe from the chef who made the beautiful involtini in the photo. He didn’t speak any English and my Italian’s not great, but I think I got the gist of it!

Melanzane di involtini

Serves 4

  • 2 aubergines, sliced thinly
  • 200 g provolone cheese
  • A few fresh basil leaves,shredded
  • A small handful of cherry tomatoes

Fry the aubergine in batches until golden. (If you want to be good, you can grill it instead).

Cut small pieces of cheese and fill each slice of aubergine with a roll of cheese and a few shreds of basil. Roll them up like cigars. Place a slice of cherry tomato on top of each roll and then bake in the oven for about 5 minutes until the cheese is oozing out.

Parmigiana di melanzane

This is one of my favourite Italian dishes, and the best way to eat aubergine. My sister and cousin made this on our first day in Italy, and it was a great introduction to beautiful Italian summer food – gloriously tomatoey and thick slices of aubergine.

I haven’t found a healthy way of adapting this classic recipe (there’s a lot of oil and cheese involved) but it’s definitely worth the indulgence.

Parmigiana di melanzane

Serves 6

  • 2 large aubergines
  • 1 onion
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • 2 tins of peeled whole tomatoes
  • fresh basil
  • A generous handful of grated Parmesan
  • A cup of grated mozzarella, or two sliced mozzarella balls

Slice the aubergine into rounds, salt them and leave to drain in a colander for an hour. Wash the salt off the aubergine slices and pat dry with a towel.

Fry the slices of aubergine in olive oil until golden (about 4 minutes on each side). Aubergine loves oil and will soak it up quickly so keep adding olive oil when it gets dry. Using a non stick pan will help a lot. Drain the fried aubergine on paper towels.

To make the tomato sauce, fry the onion in olive oil until it starts to soften and then add the garlic. Add the chopped tomatoes, and add a handful of basil leaves and pepper, and leave to simmer for about twenty five minutes. Add a pinch of sugar, and salt and pepper to season.

Spread a spoonful of tomato sauce on the bottom of an ovenproof dish and follow with a layer of aubergine. Cover with more sauce, a few torn basil leaves and a sprinkling of Pamersan. Continue layering with aubergine, sauce, basil and parmesan and finish with a layer of sauce. Top with the  mozzarella.

Bake in a 180C oven for around 30 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling and turning golden. Serve with crusty bread and a green salad. It also makes for great leftovers on a sandwich the next day with some basil pesto. Delicioso!

Roasted butternut, guava, feta and avocado winter salad

Wednesday was a scorcher in Cape Town. The thermometer on my car read 30 degrees and I saw people dressed in bikinis heading for the beach. The beach – in June! In celebration of the sunshine and warmth I made a suitably cheery salad for lunch. Guavas have just come into season, and my other winter favourite, avocado, is so plentiful at the moment. Combined with sweet roast butternut, feta, rocket and basil from my flourishing herb garden they make such a flavourful, interesting salad.

Butternut, guava, avocado and feta salad

Serves one

  • 2 guavas, cut into eighths
  • 500 g roasted butternut (I roasted mine in a 190 C oven for about 40 minutes with a sprinkling of chilli flakes)
  • A handful of rocket
  • A small handful of fresh basil leaves
  • Half a wheel of feta
  • 150 g of rosa tomatoes, sliced
  • A handful of mixed sprouts
  • Half an avocado, sliced

It’s pretty easy to assemble – leaves on the bottom, and everything piled on top. I think it’s nicer if you let the butternut cool down a bit, so it’s not too hot. Crumble the feta on top and dress with something sharp – lemon juice or balsamic vinegar.