Sunday, June 13, 2010


Friends of Jeanne rejoice!!! The pools are open, the beach is beckoning, and I think I even glimpsed the brief sparkle of a firefly at dusk. This can only mean one thing: Tortellini Salad Season has arrived. Hooray!!!

During the 1980s, when swim team dominated my family’s summers in a dreamy, pleasant sort of way, Mom made this constantly. Tortellini Primavera Salad was her signature dish for swim team picnics, or barbecues at our friends’ houses. She usually served it with a killer Sangria –of which I obviously did not partake, given that I was 8-years old, but I’ve heard was fantastic. Tune in next week for the alcoholic portion of this menu.

To give you the full visual, Mom usually served her tortellini salad in a large apple green Melamine Heller bowl. For those of you post-Gen Xers out there, stackable Hellerware was all the rage in the 80s, as was tortellini salad. Mom’s salad would be accompanied by burgers, hot dogs, and a few other side dishes –but hers always trumped the rest. (Major players from this era can be viewed in the picture "Mom and Her Ladies") I remember bringing it to school for lunch one day, and getting odd looks from my friends. Then one brave soul tried a bite, and muttered, “It’s actually pretty good.”

I’ll admit that –like many of the recipes I post— this one’s a throwback. People don’t serve heavy pasta salads loaded with a ton of different ingredients. It’s a pain in the neck to make, and one might argue the flavors drown each other out. Like many cooks nowadays, I prefer dishes with a few fresh ingredients. Yet, when I dreamed of the weekend we were planning at the beach, my palate demanded this salad.

Much to my delight, I discovered nearly all of the ingredients at our neighborhood Farmer’s Market. Asparagus, zucchini, and peas are all in season. Mom presciently specialized in a recipe of which the local food movement would approve. Even better, the local stuff tastes awesome –especially the fresh peas.

I scooped up the ingredients and headed down to the beach, where we ate Mom’s salad along with locally-caught fish and a green salad. Guess what? Tortellini was the hit of the evening. Just like in the eighties, we polished off that generous bowl of pasta in no time. Satisfied, we sat out on the porch drinking beer and chatting as our kids ran around. Summer had blissfully arrived. The only thing missing was the Hellerware.


Here’s the thing about the tortellini salad. It’s kind of a pain. There are a ton of vegetables that require stir frying, not to mention an ingredient-heavy dressing that needs Jeanne’s trusty “Cuisinart” or any other food processor. Luckily, Mom gave a pretty comprehensive recipe for this one…so we’re in good shape.

4 stalks of asparagus
1-2 zucchini
½ cup peas (I used fresh, which are a major pain to shell. I have a whole new respect for those southern folk songs about shellin’ peas. Nevertheless, if you can swing it –do it. Fresh peas brought the salad to a new level)
1 cup broccoli, cut into pieces
1 Tbsp, olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup mushroom
1 box of cherry tomatoes
2 packages of cheese tortellini (I like the refrigerated kind)
¼ cup of fresh basil
4 cloves of fresh garlic (You can cut this by half if your stomach doesn’t do well with lots of garlic. The Jeanne may have been a witch in her previous life, such was her love of garlic)
¼ cup, red wine vinegar
¼ cup of mayonnaise (Note: Of course, mayo was not included in Mom’s copy of recipe, but made a sneak appearance later. Classic.)
½ cup toasted pine nuts

Cut asparagus into 1 inch pieces
Slice and quarter zucchini
Broccoli flowerettes (Not sure this is a real word, but she means cut them into smaller pieces)
Stir fry these veggies in olive oil, keep them crunchy
Add mushroom, tomatoes and peas
Add cooked tortellini, toss well

In Cuisinart, blend basil, garlic, red wine vinegar, and mayo. Make dressing enough to coat veggie pasta mix.
Refrigerate for at least an hour.
Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts before serving.

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