The Gallivanting Gourmand
Greg Duncan
Greg Duncan
is a freelance writer based in the Montreal region. He is particularly keen about good food. In his day job, Greg is the executive director of the Quebec Community Newspapers Association.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 05.17.03


Men in bikinis adore pasta salad

Uh oh, bathing suit and barbecue season is around the corner and woe is me; there is some winter weight to shed. Panic setting in? You bet.

I applied at Curves (a new fitness-centre franchise) for a membership on the weekend and was declined because I am not of the female persuasion. Discrimination, I say, as I deserve to look as good in a bikini as anyone else. I also would prefer to work out in the company of fitness goddesses than with a whole bunch of stinky and sweaty men.

I also admit to needing some inspiration and what better way to attain weight loss than by parading around in form-fitting exercise attire in front of members of the opposite sex? You can always count on the embarrassment factor to instigate many pounds of sweat and water loss.

You will be invited to the first barbecue of the season soon. What to bring? You know you've got to have something to grill and that in itself is of no major concern considering the simple choices out there beef, chicken, fish, or even something a little more exotic for the grill.

Recent barbecue trends seem to be classic as of late, and mixed grills seem to be in fashion. A very early barbecue at a friend's place produced a mix of sausages, chicken, and steak nicely grilled and allowed us to have a little of each. Mind you, we ate inside, as there was still snow on the ground.

The thing is, if you want to bring something along to contribute to the meal, then chances are you will bring something along as a side dish. Chances are even better that the side dish will be in the form of salad.

This is where you need to be creative and remember the golden rule of picnics and barbecues -- If you don't want to send everyone home with grumble-guts, then play it safe. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.

Salads containing shellfish or meat must be kept very cold in transit and at the serving area. Salads with mayonnaise-style dressing must be kept cold as well and that means throughout the meal.

Now that you have adhered to safety, you must decide what offering you will impress your friends with. Everyone can produce a salad with standard ingredients but choose a few not-so-common ingredients and you will be the Salad King or Queen.

Pasta is de rigueur of late and a combo of fresh herbs, fancy lettuce, and odd-shaped pasta will have your friends thinking your grandmother is Italian. We all secretly envy those with a nana, don't we?

The following recipe incorporates vitamin-rich spinach and radicchio, with a traditional dry Italian ham and the requisite olive oil and parmesan. The addition of toasted pine nuts and fresh basil creates a salad worthy of serving to even the most portly of opera singers. Rejoice in your newly found Italian heritage as you serve this crunchy crowd pleaser.

Spinach pasta salad

8 oz. ziti (2 1/4 cups) or other medium pasta
1 cup lightly packed spinach leaves
1/4 cup lightly packed basil leaves
2 cloves garlic, quartered
2 tbsp. finely shredded parmesan cheese
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. water
1/2- cup light mayonnaise or salad dressing
1 to 2 oz. (3 to 6 tbsp.) chopped prosciutto or regular ham
2 tbsp. toasted pine nuts
Radicchio leaves
Spinach leaves

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta, rinse with cold water and drain again, set aside.

Meanwhile, for dressing, combine one cup spinach, basil, garlic, and parmesan cheese, salt and pepper in a food processor or blender. Add oil and water, cover and blend until nearly smooth and mixture forms a paste.

Combine this paste with mayonnaise or salad dressing. Toss pasta and pesto-mayonnaise dressing in a large bowl until well coated. Line another bowl with radicchio and spinach leaves and spoon pasta into bowl. Sprinkle with prosciutto or ham and pine nuts to serve. Keep chilled. Serves six to eight.