On Sunday was a goodbye party for Tap, who is going back to Thailand. I know that I will miss him, and I've only known him for a few months, compared with the years that he has been an integral part of the Thai Essence family. Ake asked me to bring two dishes: one dessert and something savory. I was as nervous as I was excited. Despite Ake's assurance that there was no pressure, I certainly felt pressure. I decided on a pasta salad because I love pasta, I love salad, it can travel at room temperature and be ready to serve immediately. Plus, nobody hates pasta salad.
Planning for my salad, I brainstormed ingredients and ended with a fairly minimalistic salad. Between couscous, israeli couscous, quinoa, tortellini, ravioli, and all the other grains and starches that I love in salads, I chose rotini. I eliminated broccoli, bell peppers, spinach, lettuce, and greenbeans, but put in just arugula and tomatoes. I skipped over olives, capers, sundried tomatoes, and artichoke hearts in favor of Mark Bittman's preserved lemons. I avoided fancy nuts like pistachios and pumpkin seeds for simple walnuts. I added walnuts and lemon to play up the flavors from the basil-arugula-lemon zest-walnut pesto that formed the flavor base of the dish.
On Sunday, I began by getting my lemon pickle ready. I was a little bit anxious about the recipe. It just seems a little odd to chop up an entire lemon, which is mostly peel, and serve it to people. I trusted the source though, so I tried it anyways. The recipe is extremely simple, just chop lemons and add a bit of sugar and salt. I chopped the lemon a bit smaller than the picture showed because I was so nervous about putting giant chunks of peel in my pasta. I let the lemons get juicy as they sat in a bowl for the next few hours.
Next, I cooked the pasta. The pesto emerged from the freezer, where it had been frozen in an ice cube tray. I defrosted the cubes with the help of some hot pasta water and mixed it in with the pasta. I chopped cherry tomatoes, both red and yellow. Halving cherry tomatoes is a dangerous feat. The entire kitchen soon was covered in cherry tomato seeds.
I toasted walnuts and employed my very special ireallydon'tfeellikedoingphysics walnut chopping method: after toasting, I individually rubbed each walnut half to make the skins fall off, then broke them into chunks by hand. Time consuming? Yes. Satisfactory? Yes.
As the hour to go approached, my lemons were looking picklier. I mixed a few spoonfuls in with the pasta, pesto, tomatoes, and chopped fresh arugula. After I put the pasta into a big salad bowl, I added the walnuts and freshly shredded parmesan on top.
My favorite part about this pasta salad was the hidden lemon flavors. Despite the pesto's strong visual presence, its flavor really wasn't as pronounced as the lemon zesty flavor from the preserved lemons. I really enjoyed the flavors of this salad. It wasn't particularly original or unique, but I think that it was well executed and I was very pleased! This is the perfect pasta salad.