Log Cabin Chronicles

greg duncan

© 1998 John Mahoney

The Gallivanting Gourmand

Spinach Pasta Salad


So you have been invited to a barbecue. 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.

I once witnessed a friend toss whole squid -- large ones -- on the grill without even so much as a marinade and I was put off by the sight of those squid staring up from the grill as their eyes went from clear to hazy. Thankfully, my friend had arrived late and was the last to grill on the dying embers as the fishy smell had us all reeling. Whatever turns your crank, folks.

The trend seems to be a little more conservative of late, although a mixed grill seems to be in fashion. A recent trip to a couple's new house produced a mix of sausages, chicken, and steak nicely grilled and allowed us to have a little of each.

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 more likely 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 ounces 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 tbsps 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 ounces (3 to 6 tbsps) chopped prosciutto or regular ham
  • 2 tbsp toasted pine nuts
  • adicchio leaves
  • spinach leaves
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta, rinse with cold water and drain again, set aside. Meanwhile, for dressing, combine the 1 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 6 to 8.

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Copyright © 2000 Greg Duncan/Log Cabin Chronicles/06.2000