If there's not another warm day this year I'll be satisfied with our ration of sunshine. Just about every day I've been able to sit outside with supper and a cool drink. If it were always like this, no one would ever leave.
Asparagus and egg salad
The two main ingredients in this salad complement each other beautifully, especially as a light summer lunch dish for four. If you have never toasted pine nuts, they burn really fast, so put them in a dry frying pan over medium heat and watch them like a hawk - you're going for golden. One dark brown spot will render a nut inedible, so discard any nasty ones.
I realize they're expensive but you only need a couple of ounces, and it's well worth the extra pennies for this recipe.
1 lb. fresh asparagus
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. sherry or white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tbsp. capers, rinsed, drained and chopped
2 tbsp. chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
1/4 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 hardboiled eggs
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
Trim off the woody ends of the asparagus. If the stalks are especially thick, peel them with a vegetable peeler. Cut into 1-inch lengths. Drop in boiling water and simmer for 3 or 4 minutes - a little longer if they are thick. Rinse in cold water and set aside to drain thoroughly. Whisk together olive oil, sherry vinegar, mustard, capers and parsley until dressing is smooth and slightly thickened. Toss with drained asparagus and pile onto a nice serving plate. Coarsely chop hardboiled eggs and toss with salt, pepper and pine nuts. Sprinkle evenly over asparagus and serve at once.
Italian summer salad
The peppery bite of arugula, salty morsels of cheese, the crisp freshness of fennel, the sweetness of ripe tomatoes, and the tang of lemon - enough to make me weep for summer all year round. Serve this to four as a memorable first course or be European about it and finish a warm evening outside with a glass of chilled wine in hand.
If you've never bought fresh fennel, this is a great introduction. It has a slightly anise or licorice flavour and never gets limp in a salad.
1 fresh fennel bulb
4 cups firmly packed fresh arugula leaves (or any salad greens you like)
1 cup grape tomatoes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large lump Parmesan cheese, cut into large shavings or coarsely grated
Cut off and discard the long stalks on the fennel bulb. Slice it down the middle vertically and cut out the core, as you would from a head of cabbage. Slice it as thinly as you possibly can. Chop the feathery green fennel leaves and toss together with the sliced fennel, arugula, and tomatoes in a large bowl. Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, pour over salad and stir together. Top with Parm and serve at room temperature.
Chipotle chicken and penne salad
Now, let's get substantial. This is a meal on a plate, satisfying, delicious and as spicy as you like it. This is a summer party salad and will easily serve 10 to 12 people. On the other hand, feel free to halve the recipe if you hate having delicious leftovers in the fridge for a couple of days. Don't scrimp on the herbs - they are essential here.
Chicken is mild but is my preference in this salad. You feel free to substitute ham, back bacon, or cooked sausage - whatever you like.
If the green salsa proves elusive, then by all means use red. Pasta absolutely soaks up the spiciness so I'd go all out with a hot variety, but the choice is yours.
1 chipotle pepper, canned in adobo, minced
1/2 cup bottled salsa verde (tomatillo salsa - available in most large groceries)
1/2 cup each ranch dressing and mayonnaise
2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. honey
2 tsp. smoked paprika (or sweet if you prefer)
1 tsp. each cumin, allspice and dried oregano
1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. penne
1 lb. coarsely chopped cooked chicken
1 red or green bell pepper, diced
3 or 4 green onions, chopped
3 stalks celery, diced
24 grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup each fresh chopped cilantro and Italian flat-leaf parsley
Whisk together minced chipotle pepper, salsa, ranch dressing, mayonnaise, white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey, paprika, cumin, allspice, oregano, salt and pepper. Stir in garlic and refrigerate for a little while for the flavours to blend.
Cook penne according to package directions and drain thoroughly. Don't rinse it. Allow to cool just a little then stir it into the prepared dressing.
Add cooked chicken, bell pepper, green onions, celery and tomatoes. Refrigerate until ready to serve then stir in the cilantro and parsley.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John's. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John's, NL, A1E 4N1.