GAIL MONAGHAN

COOKING - ENTERTAINING - LINENS

March

Gail Monaghan

PASTA SALAD WITH ROAST CHICKEN, ROQUEFORT, PEARS, RED GRAPES AND WALNUTS

About the Recipe

I've always loved a good pasta salad.

Until a year or two ago, as in Italy, I saw these salads as firmly ensconced in the carbohydrate camp and I made them accordingly. In Italy, rice and pasta dishes are all about the starch with other ingredients thrown in for flavor, nomenclature and a bit of variety. I followed suit especially as that was back in the 1990s when starch was king, and medical professionals believed that limitless carbohydrates (even the white ones) were the key to good health.

Decades have passed and opinions have changed. Whether to remain au courant or simply because I’ve always preferred a bit less starch, lately I’ve been flipping the ratio and loving the results.

A pasta salad is the ideal repository for extraneous bits and pieces. If you’re even marginally imaginative, any combination of leftover meat, poultry, fish, seafood, sausage, legumes, and vegetables—cannily tossed with olive oil and seasonings or with a first-class vinaigrette—results in a must-eat dish. Now, however, I include only about a quarter of a box (4 ounces) of pasta for 6 generous main course servings, the rest of the bowl consisting of veggies and/or proteins. For even lighter salads, add shredded lettuces or cabbage and extra vegetables.

For those who prefer following a recipe, try my Pasta Salad with Roast Chicken, Roquefort, Pears, Red Grapes and Walnuts. It's divine as written, but welcomes substitutions too. Replace the chicken with smoked turkey, duck or goose or omit. Again, nothing is set in stone so play around; replace the Roquefort and walnuts with chevre and pistachios, or the pears with Granny Smith apples. It’s hard to go wrong here. Extra dressing will keep in the fridge for at least a month. Drizzled over grilled chicken, fish or vegetables, it’s addictive.

And experiment with flipping the ratio with risottos and hot pastas as well. Your Italian nonna may frown, but I think you'll be pleased with the results.


PASTA SALAD WITH ROAST CHICKEN, ROQUEFORT, PEARS, RED GRAPES AND WALNUTS

Serves 8 as a main course or 12-14 as a first course

Ingredients

  • 8 cups roast chicken, cut into bite-size pieces

  • 5-6 ounces penne, rotelle (wheels) or farfalle (bow-tie) cooked al dente according to package directions

  • 1 bunch watercress, tough stems removed and coarsely chopped

  • 3 heads Belgian endive, trimmed and sliced crosswise into 1/2-inch slices

  • 1 bulb fennel, trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces

  • 3/4 cup seedless red grapes, halved vertically

  • 1 cup crumbled Roquefort or other blue cheese

  • 1 cup thinly sliced (crosswise) celery

  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped

  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped mint

  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped Italian parsley

  • 1 medium red onion, halved and sliced into paper thin half rings

  • 2 Bosc pears, ripe but still firm

  • 1 recipe Walnut Vinaigrette (see below)

  • fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


Method

  1. Place all the salad ingredients, except the pears, in a large salad bowl

  2. Core the pears. Slice them into 1/4-inch-thick wedges and add them to the salad

  3. Toss with just enough of the Walnut Vinaigrette to moisten and flavor. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Serve.


WALNUT VINAIGRETTE

Yield: 3/4–1 cup

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup walnut oil


  • 2 tablespoons Sherry or balsamic vinegar


  • 1 tablespoon grainy mustard

  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
 or more to taste

  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or more to taste

  • 1 large clove garlic, finely minced


Method

  1. Place all vinaigrette ingredients in a lidded jar and shake vigorously until well combined. Set aside for at least 1 hour to let flavors marry. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.

  2. Use right away or refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. Bring to room temperature and re-shake the jar before using.