A couple of months ago, I got a call from a guy speaking in a hushed voice. He said he had locked himself in the bathroom and wanted to arrange something with me. His name was Gregg and he is the husband of one of my close friends.
Now, you may be thinking something naughty but what Gregg wanted to arrange with me was a surprise lunch for his lovely bride. Kelly’s birthday is December 31st – a New Year’s Eve baby – and this year she turns 40. He wanted to do something special for her and first he asked me if I was free to come to the lunch. Once I said yes, he sheepishly asked me if I would cater it. I laughed out loud and said of course.
I have known Kelly since 3rd grade but we really became friends our freshman year in high school. We have taken road trips together, thrown parties, done lots of laughing, and even lived together for a year. She has two boys as well and we have enjoyed getting our kids together, although not as often as either of us would like. Kelly is a quality person, a class act as my dad likes to say. She deserved to find happiness with a wonderful man and that she did. Not only did Gregg invite 15 people to their house for lunch, but he is sending her out for some spa treatment so that I can set everything up without being detected. Can we all stand up and give Gregg a hand?
So, what’s for lunch? Well, the birthday cake will be this one. I am making two galettes – the Butternut Squash one and the Roasted Tomato one. I’m making a Mediterranean chick pea salad. I plan to have veggies and Buttermilk dip on hand for people to snack on. And I made this pasta salad.
One of my least favorite words for food is gloppy. In my book, anything with mayonnaise is gloppy and for some reason most pasta salad, even if it doesn’t star mayo, is gloppy. Over-dressed, over-cooked pasta, under-seasoned. If you agree with me, you might want to try this recipe. It is far from gloppy. In fact, it is light and bright and very tasty. Golden beets, almonds, fennel, and radicchio mix together with Orecchiette in a lemony dressing. It’s one of those wonderful recipes that looks and tastes great. Happy birthday, Kell!
My little family and I are going to be heading out of town right after lunch for 2 nights away with wonderful friends. If I could, I would personally wish each and every one of you amazing people who read this blog a Happy New Year, but my super powers only extend so far. I hope your 2009 was filled with life, love, and good food and I wish you more of the same in 2010!
One Year Ago: Vegetable Couscous Paella and Manchego Skewers
Orecchiette Salad with Roasted Beets, Fennel, & Toasted Almonds
Adapted from Macrina Bakery and Café Cookbook
Do yourself a favor and serve this (and every) pasta salad at room temperature. It needs some warmth for the flavors to bloom. Also, don’t be afraid of salt here. Add enough to make the flavors pop.
2 medium golden beets, washed
4 tbsp. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup whole almonds
2 cups dry orecchiette pasta
1 cup thinly sliced radicchio
½ cup thinly sliced fennel bulb
¼ cup chopped fennel fronds
½ cup sliced scallions
¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/3 cup Lemon Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Place washed beets in the center of a large piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and season with a bit of salt and pepper. Gather up the edges of the foil and seal the beets inside a pouch. Bake on center rack of oven for about 1 hour, or until beets are tender when poked with a fork. Let cool, then peel the beets and chop to a medium dice. Set aside. Leave oven on.
Spread almonds on a rimmed baking sheet and toast for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. (This can be done while the beets are roasting.) Let almonds cool, then coarsely chop and set aside.
Fill a large saucepan with water. Add a pinch of kosher salt and bring to a boil. Drop in pasta and simmer for 10-12 minutes, or until tender. Drain in a colander, shaking off excess water. Toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil to keep pasta from sticking.
Add the diced beets, toasted almonds, radicchio, fennel bulb and fronds, scallions, and parsley. Drizzle in Lemon Vinaigrette and toss all ingredients together. Season to taste with kosher salt and pepper. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
Makes approximately 1¼ cups
This dressing makes more than you need for the pasta salad, but it’s also delicious used as a green salad dressing. Go ahead and make the whole amount and use it over the course of a week.
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. red wine vinegar
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp. honey
1 tbsp. freshly grated lemon zest
1 garlic clove, finely chopped or pressed
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. freshly ground pepper
¾ cup olive oil
Combine mustard, vinegar, lemon juice, honey, lemon zest, garlic, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Mix well with a whisk. Add olive oil in a slow stream, whisking as you pour in the oil. Continue whisking until dressing has emulsified, then cover and store in the refrigerator.