Every now and then, July's oppressive heat and humidity hover over someplace else and we get a cool, dry, good hair, mid-summer day. Such an occasion is worthy of a picnic, so my girls and I made a picnic playdate and met some friends at our favorite park for food and playtime. I'm very proud that the menu was mostly made by the girls. Here's the menu:
Summer Picnic in the Park
Pasta Salad with Sweet Cherry Tomatoes, Zucchini and Dijon Vinaigrette
Homemade Pimento Cheese and Wheat Thins
Barbecue Chip Sandwiches
Laura made the pimento cheese and blondies, a recipe from each of her grandmothers. Lindsey decided on barbecue potato chip sandwiches, and frankly, I'm not sure where she got her inspiration from, but they were tasty. In the summer, we always have a watermelon cooling in the fridge. We usually cut it in chunks and eat it throughout the day; this time, it was cut in wedges, with the rind on each slice, to make a convenient handle.
I've made this pasta salad for at least a dozen summers. It's based on a salad from Nathalie Dupree Cooks for Family and Friends, one of my favorite cookbooks. The original recipe uses fresh snow peas and broccoli, which are tasty, but this time decided to keep it seasonal and simple with zucchini from the CSA box and the sweet cherry tomatoes from the farmers' market (pictured above).
Pasta Salad with Summer Vegetables and Dijon Vinaigrette
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 cloves minced garlic
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
3 green onions, chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound rotini, or some other short pasta such as penne or fusilli, cooked al dente according to package directions, and drained
3 or 4 zucchini, peeled, and sliced into 1/4-inch batons
2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half
Other suitable vegetables: broccoli, green beans, asparagus, red and yellow bell peppers, fresh snow peas. Be sure to blanch and shock the green vegetables as described before adding them to the salad.
1/4 to 1/2 cup freshly shaved Parmesan cheese
1. To make the dressing, in a food processor, add the green onions, vinegar, mustard and garlic, and process for 10 seconds or until incorporated. With the processor running, pour in the oil. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper. If you're making the salad in advance, put the dressing in a tightly sealed jar and place in the refrigerator.
2. To blanch and shock the zucchini (and other green veggies, if using), fill a pot with water and set to boil. Set out a bowl with water and ice. Place the zucchini batons in the water and boil for three minutes. To stop the cooking, transfer the vegetables into the ice water, then drain the vegetables.
3. When ready to serve, fill a large bowl with the pasta and vegetables and dressing. If the vinaigrette has separated, whisk it thoroughly before tossing with salad. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust accordingly, (being shy on the salt because you still need to add Parmesan). Add the cheese and serve. The covered salad can hold in the refrigerator for an hour or two before serving.