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Let the grazing begin! Luscious spring vegetables fill the markets and for those of us in more moderate climes, we no longer need to fill up on heart warming food to get us through the winter. Salads with the crunch of greens and the texture of fresh vegetables, olive and nuts can combine with pasta or rice to make a meal in itself. And, if your are dining al fresco, salads are great with grilled meat or fish. Here are some of my favorites—
Mediterranean Rice Salad

• Bruchetta

• Basil & Walnut Pasta Salad

Mediterranean Rice Salad serves four (shown with Bruschetta)

TAKE a bunch of asparagus, CUT stalks into two inch pieces and SAUTE in 2 Tbs olive oil until tender

In a bowl COMBINE asparagus, 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, 1 generous cup black olives, 1 cup chopped basil, one sliced yellow pepper with 4 cups cooked brown rice

SEASON with salt & pepper and TOSS with a vinaigrette dressing

Basil & Walnut Pasta Salad-serves six

COOK 4 cups (dry) penne pasta, RINSE and set aside

PULSE in a food processor- 1 cup walnuts, 1 cup fresh basil, 1 cup fresh parsley, three cloves garlic, 1 Tsp salt while adding 3/4 cups of virgin olive oil

TOSS together the pasta, basil/walnut sauce and 1 pint of yellow or red cherry tomatoes

GARNISH with walnuts and fresh basil

Bruschetta-A Tuscan favorite

GRILL thick slices of rustic bread RUB a clove of garlic on the surface of each slice of the toasted bread CUT a tomato in half and RUB cut surface of the tomato on each slice DRIZZLE with olive oil and garnish with a fresh basil leaf.