WE ARE COMING into the salad season hooray! -- the time of the year when chilly mixtures of fresh ingredients seem most appealing.
And if those dishes can be assembled ahead of time, so much the better.
Pasta salads are an excellent choice for pre-event preparations, of course. The do-before tortellini suggestion that follows is so hearty it could be a main dish. Accompany this salad with good bread and a fruit dessert for an easy picnic.
But almost any other pasta can be used in a salad, if you wish. Cook until just tender, then rinse under running cold water to eliminate starchy residues. Mix the pasta with dressing and chill. Vegetable and/or fruit and nuts can be tossed in.
Grains also can make a good salad base. Try rice, wild rice, barley, bulgur, kasha. You also might experiment with couscous, with its pleasant nutty taste. These semolina granules are popular in Mediterranean countries.
In our recipe, we use instant couscous that doesn't need to be cooked. It merely stands in boiling water, then is cooled and mixed with vegetables. Pine nuts and chopped fresh mint add an exotic touch. They also add color.
Certain all-vegetable salads can be prepared ahead of time. Don't forget cabbage -- there must be 105 different ways to prepare cole slaw and refrigerate before it's served. Or you might marinate some thinly sliced cucumbers in vinegar with thin-sliced white onion. This is a fine accompaniment to baked chicken.
Any of these can be served instead of, as well as in addition to, a standard salad mixture of tossed greens. A variety of locally grown lettuces will be turning up in markets any day now, and even green salads can be readied ahead of time -- to a certain point.
Wash, drain, pat dry and combine lettuces; refrigerate.
But because lettuce gets soggy if it stands too long in oil, add the dressing just before serving.
1package (9 ounces) frozen cheese tortellini
1can (6 1/2 ounces) solid white tuna, drained and flaked
1package (10 ounces) fresh or frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1small onion, chopped
2tablespoons wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon oregano
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1teaspoon Dijon-style prepared mustard
2cups halved cherry tomatoes
Cook tortellini according to package directions: Drain and toss in a large bowl with enough olive oil so that all the tortellini is lightly coated. Add drained flaked tuna, peas, cheese and onion; set aside.
To prepare dressing: Combine 1/4 cup olive oil, vinegar, basil, oregano, mustard and salt to taste. Pour over the tortellini mixture; add fresh black pepper. Toss well. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Stir in tomatoes; let stand at room temperature about 20 minutes before serving. Makes about 8 cups of salad.
NANA'S CUCUMBER SALAD
3medium cucumbers, peeled and sliced
1medium white onion, sliced
1 1/2 cups white vinegar
1/4 cup water
Freshly ground black pepper
Roll sliced cucumbers in a clean dish and wring out the towel over the sink. (The idea is to remove as much liquid from the cucumbers as possible. They come out looking wrinkled.)
Place cucumbers in a bowl with the onion. Mix vinegar, sugar and water; pour over cucumbers and toss gently. (There should be enough vinegar solution to cover all the vegetables.)
Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and chill until very cold.
2cups finely shredded red cabbage
2cups finely shredded green cabbage
1cup sour cream OR unflavored yogurt
2tablespoons prepared horseradish
1teaspoon prepared mustard
1apple, unpeeled and diced
Combine cabbages in a bowl. Mix sour cream, horseradish, vinegar, sugar and mustard. Add to cabbage and toss. Chill.
Just before serving, add diced apple. Makes about 8 servings.
2tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
6tablespoons good-quality olive oil
1cup instant couscous
2/3 cup boiling water
2tablespoons pine nuts
2celery ribs, diced
3tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
Whisk lemon juice with a pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk in oil.
Combine couscous with salt to taste in a large saucepan. Shake saucepan to make an even layer. Pour boiling water over couscous and close pan tightly. Shake to distribute water; let stand 5 minutes.
Whisk dressing again; drizzle 2 tablespoons over the couscous. Cover; let stand 2 minutes. Transfer to serving bowl and fluff with fork. Let cool.
Toast pine nuts in skillet over medium heat, shaking pan until nuts are lightly browned. Let cool.
Add remaining dressing, tomatoes, celery and mint to couscous. Toss and refrigerate at least 1 hour. Serve on lettuce leaves. Makes 4 servings. (Recipe adapted from "Sensational Pasta" by Fave Levy; HP Books, 1989.)