A cacophony in the kitchen that sung in harmony on the plate.
Sometimes I come up with odd combinations of foods for us to eat for supper. Tonight was one of those nights. I came home with the idea of making macaroni and cheese. I didn’t want to eat a huge portion, but I didn’t want to go hungry with a tiny plate of pasta. We happen to have a fridge full of veggies and I wanted a salad that was satisfying enough to be a meal. I also wanted roasted veggies. These ideas danced in my head for awhile, and an idea emerged — I will make a salad, Mac & Cheese and roasted veggies and put them into the salad rather than serving the three separate things side-by-side. Obviously, pasta tossed into a salad is nothing new, I make this constantly in the summer for our back yard BBQ’s. I recently read a blog post about a tasty salad combination of Penne, Chickpeas, Sun-dried Tomatoes and baby Arugula on Skinnytaste which looks pretty good. I know I’ve heard mention of hot and cold salads. When Bjorn gave me a thumbs up to having a sort-of salad for supper, away I went.
I started by breaking off florets of broccoli and cauliflower to roast for the “hot” part of the salad. I tried to picture the amount I would want for 4 servings of salad so that I didn’t make too much. My goal is to prepare enough to feed us twice. Two plates at supper and then leftovers for lunch.
I dumped the broccoli and cauliflower, along with some sliced button mushrooms on a sheet pan coated with cooking spray, and threw it in the oven, which was heated to 425 degree Fahrenheit. I didn’t add any oil to the veggies. A drizzle of olive oil tastes great on roasted veggies, but I was planning to dress the salad before serving, so I didn’t use any. It really isn’t necessary.
When you roast veggies without oil, they tend to char a little more than when they are tossed lightly in oil. That char is tasty.
While the veggies roasted, I put a small saucepan of water on the stove to heat, and salted it lightly. While that heated, I chopped a half of a red pepper into chickpea-sized chunks, and rinsed and drained a can of chickpeas.
I assembled an assortment of greens. We had a great variety in the fridge. Our salad tonight had baby spinach, Butter and Romaine Lettuce and Pea Shoots. When the Broccoli, Cauliflower and Mushrooms had roasted for about 8 minutes I used tongs to toss it around so that all sides would get exposed to heat. I also added a few handfuls of whole grain pasta shells to the saucepan of salted water to cook until al dente, according to the package directions.
While the pasta cooked and the vegetables roasted, I began assembling the cold portions of the salad: two on plates for dinner tonight, and two in portable containers for our lunches tomorrow at work. I whisked a little balsamic vinegar with olive oil, and added a healthy pinch of red pepper flakes and a good shake of Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salut to dress the salad.
When the pasta was done cooking, I stirred in a spoonful of light cream cheese, a small handful of grated sharp cheddar, and a shake of nutmeg. I didn’t go to the effort of making a cheesy roux for the Mac & Cheese. I just tossed the cooked pasta with the cheese. The cheese melted and coated the noodles nicely. It was easier to make this way, and actually better to have the pasta coated in cheese, rather than a creamy sauce, since I was planning to toss it into the salad.
I divided the roasted vegetables between our plates and two small containers for our lunch. I dressed the two plates of salad for our supper lightly and tossed them before adding the mac and cheese, since I didn’t want too much dressing on the pasta part of the salad. If I hadn’t been saving half of the salad for our lunch, I would have tossed the hot and cold vegetables with dressing in a bowl before placing in it on our plates.
I happened to use all of my homemade dressing up on our dinner portion, so I packed a small container of Trader Joe’s Light Champagne Vinaigrette* to take to work. I added a pinch of red pepper flakes and some grated Asiago so that the salads would still have a good flavor even without the balsamic vinaigrette that we had at supper.
Once our plates were assembled, we charged to the dinner table and dug in. I put out a nice chunk of Asiago cheese and a grater, salt and pepper for us to adjust the flavor at the table. A Hot and Cold Mac and Cheese Salad might sound a bit of an off the wall, but it was great. The balsamic vinegar and spicy red pepper flakes were a punchy contrast to the warm, cheesy pasta. The variety of colours was visually appealing. The crunchy lettuce and red pepper contrasted with the soft noodles and chickpeas. The roasted vegetables added warmth and charred flavor, and were roasted perfectly to retain their bite. Chopping, assembling, roasting, boiling, dressing and stirring together three different dishes raised a mild cacophony in the kitchen, that sung in harmony on the plate. I started with three ideas, and ended up with a meal that satisfied a hunger for Mac & Cheese, but kept the portion size reasonable, it was a plate packed with antioxidants and vitamins as well as great flavor and texture contrasts. We’ll make it again!
*Trader Joe’s Light Champagne Vinaigrette is my current grocery store salad dressing favorite. It contains champagne vinegar, white wine, Worcestershire sauce, and Dijon mustard, and clocks in at 50 calories for two tablespoons. It is light and zingy, and it is a legit way to have some bubbly at noon.