Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Cool Meals for Hot Days

I grew up without air conditioning. As a matter of fact, I was 30 years old before I lived in a house with central air. This wasn't necessarily a problem for me, even growing up in the Deep South. If you've never had it, you don't really miss it.

Meals in those hot summers of my childhood almost always consisted of something light and chilled, like huge tossed salads, cottage cheese and fruit, cold sandwiches, etc. The heat was simply too oppressive to do something silly like eat hot foods. As a matter of fact, my only miserable memory from those humid August days was the time mom decided we were going to can tomatoes. There is nothing that can cause such a sweltering, awful, deadweight feeling like standing in a steamy kitchen, over a hot stove where pots of water have been boiling all day, while there is 90% humidity to begin with, on a 90 degree afternoon. I thought my mother was insane, though I'm sure I appreciated those tomatoes all through the following winter.

When I grew up (or at least older), my first two apartments were on the second floor of a two-story building. At the time, I was working full-time in a shop where the air conditioner was set permanently at 65 degrees. Those were the hottest summers of my life by far. I still didn't use air conditioning where I lived, and it was just absurd to leave work at 5pm, after having been in air conditioning all day, and go home to an un-air conditioned place. You can fully appreciate the heat when you walk out into it from a cold office. I'm not even sure I ate once I left the office in those days. The thought of food was repulsive.

When The Carnivore and I first got married, we lived in town in a great little pink cottage. We were sheltered by trees, and The Carnivore is the master of air flow, so even without air conditioning, we somehow made it without succumbing to the heat. In the dead of summer though, we were both too hot to cook and most food didn't seem appealing anyhow. In those days, The Carnivore would often spend half a day during the weekend putting together a huge amount of pasta salad for us to eat all week. His was the first pasta salad that I liked, so unlike the bland, mayonnaise-dressed, overcooked noodle salads that are so common in the south.

The kitchen is my domain now, and it has been a long time since we've had pasta salad. I tried my hand at it this weekend, using a recipe from the Detroit Free Press for the dressing, and then using vegetables that I had on hand for the salad. The dressing was a standout and the end result was a refreshing, light meal for those dog days of summer.

PASTA SALAD
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Raspberry Wasabi mustard (or Dijon)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 Tbs fresh, chopped parsley
  • 3 Tbs minced shallots
  • 2 tsps granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt & black pepper to taste
  • 12 oz whole-wheat rotini pasta
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced celery
  • 1 cup diced cucumber
  • 1 cup sliced green onion
  • 1 can 3-bean salad, drained
  • 1 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 1 can sliced water chestnuts
  • 1 cup sliced green olives
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar and mustard. Stir in the garlic, parsley, shallots, sugar and Italian seasoning.
  2. In a steady stream, whisk in olive oil until the mixture emulsifies. Taste & adjust the seasonings or mustard, if necessary, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  3. Cook the pasta to al dente.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the pasta, celery, cucumber, onion, 3-bean salad, pepper, water chestnuts and olives.
  5. Add the dressing and toss to coat.
  6. Sprinkle with Parmesan, and season with salt and pepper.
  7. Refrigerate until ready to serve.