Winter to Spring Baked Pasta & Salad
The clocks went forward over the Easter weekend and whilst Mother Nature has been a little confused whether it is Winter or Spring, I’ve really started craving fresh light meals. Perhaps its the psychological effect of the lighter evenings or just a inevitable backlash after months of stodgy comfort food but, whatever it is, I need some fresh vibrant flavours and I need them now!
I spotted this meal that was featured in the Independent by Yotam Ottolenghi and loved the mix of seasonal veg. The pasta bake uses simple produce that is easy to get over the colder months, whilst the salad is a zingy celebration of all things green. All in all this meal is a delicious culinary transition from Winter to Spring. Give it a go, you won’t be disappointed.
1 large aubergine, cut into 2cm dice
Salt for aubergines plus extra freshly milled salt and black pepper
2-3 tbsp olive oil
4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1.5cm dice
3 celery stalks, cut into 1.5cm dice
1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
250g orzo pasta, rinsed
1 tsp tomato paste
380ml vegetable stock
3 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped (or 1½ tbsp picked thyme leaves)
Grated zest of 1 lemon
120g hard mozzarella, cut into 1cm dice
40g parmesan, grated (or a vegetarian substitute)
3 medium tomatoes, cut into 1cm-thick slices
1 tsp dried oregano
PASTA BAKE METHOD:
Sprinkle the aubergine generously with salt and leave to drain in a colander for 30 minutes. Rinse quickly with cold water and pat dry. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large frying pan, add the aubergine and cook for eight minutes on medium to high heat until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Remove from the pan and transfer to kitchen paper. Add the remaining oil to the pan and add the carrot and celery, fry for eight minutes, and transfer to kitchen paper. Lower the heat to medium, add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, for five minutes. Stir in the orzo* and tomato paste, and cook for two minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and pour in the stock, fresh oregano and lemon zest. Add the cooked veg, mozzarella, parmesan, and season well. Mix everything together and transfer to a ovenproof dish (21cm x 27cm or similar). Arrange the tomatoes on top, sprinkle with dried oregano and season. Bake for 40 minutes, until all the liquid has been absorbed and the pasta is cooked. Remove, leave to settle for five minutes and serve hot.
* I couldn’t get Orzo so I used Trofie instead. Because it is a slightly bigger pasta, I added a bit more stock to make sure it cooked in the time.
SPRING SALAD INGREDIENTS:
300g asparagus, trimmed and sliced on a sharp angle into 3-4 thin spears
200g french beans, topped
300g broad beans (fresh or frozen)
50g baby spinach leaves
1 shallot, peeled and very thinly sliced
1 red chilli, finely diced
1-2 tbsp olive oil
freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
1 tsp nigella seeds
Freshly milled salt and black pepper
SPRING SALAD METHOD:
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and blanch the asparagus for two to four minutes, depending on thickness – you don’t want them cooked to very soft. With a slotted spoon, transfer to a bowl of ice-cold water. Add the french beans to the boiling water, blanch for five minutes and transfer to the asparagus bowl. Drain both well, then dry with a clean kitchen towel. Blanch the broad beans in the same water for two minutes, drain, refresh and dry, then remove and discard the skins by pressing each bean gently between finger and thumb. This is a bit is a bit tedious but well worth it as the skins can be a bit bitter and tough.
Put all the greens in a large bowl and add all the remaining ingredients and season well. Stir gently and serve at once.
Seves 4-6. Both recipes by Yotam Ottolenghi – I’ve tweaked them fractionally for my taste.