I wait eagerly for the season when we get to eat outdoors, when grilled food, potato salads, and loaded sandwiches dominate the menu. That means I love picnics, rooftop cocktail hours, and barbecues more than just about anything. And of course, I’m always thinking about the best menu for each al fresco dining occasion.
I don’t know about you, but even though I love the meat that comes off the grill, at most barbecues, I gravitate towards the sides. There’s usually a fun variety, and you get to try one of each thing.
I’m particular tickled when the sides aren’t too heavy, or even when they border on healthful fare. A plateful of marinated vegetables or grain salad acts as the perfect balance to whatever meat is on the grill. When I contribute to the spread, I try to meet my own preferences, and that’s how I landed on this little pasta salad, a colorful picnic or BBQ addition if there ever was one. Roasted red peppers, cool hearts of palm, and creamy avocado punctuate whole wheat elbows, all coated by a tangy vinaigrette that’s a welcome break from mayo-dressed foods.
However you serve this salad, and whatever the spring or summer occasion, I recommend opening a bottle of Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay, then sitting back and enjoying the barbecue, rooftop cocktail hour, or picnic. Cheers!
- For the salad:
- ½ pound whole wheat elbows
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- One 14-ounce can hearts of palm, cut into chunks (about 1⅓ cups)
- 3 roasted red peppers, washed well and drained, then cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 ripe avocado, cut in half, pit removed, cut in a cross hatch then scooped out
- Dark green parts of scallions for garnish
- For the vinaigrette:
- 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 1 spring onion, white and light green parts, sliced
- ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ¾ teaspoon kosher or sea salt, or more to taste
- ¼ teaspoon oregano
- ½ teaspoon honey
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Bring a pot of water up to boiling. Cook the pasta according to package directions, then drain. Place in a large bowl. Add the hearts of palm, red peppers, and avocados.
- In a second bowl, make the vinaigrette: combine the vinegar, lemon juice, and spring onion and set aside for 10 minutes. Whisk in the mustard. Slowly drizzle in both oils, whisking as you go so the dressing emulsifies. Add the salt, oregano, honey, and pepper, and stir again.
- Pour most of the dressing over the salad and toss gently so you don’t smush the avocado. Serve, garnished with cilantro.