When I was growing up, a true sign of summer was a cold entree for dinner. With a mantra “It’s just too hot to turn on the oven!” my mother instilled a special magic around the idea of eating a dinner that was COLD. Since then, I have obviously come to embrace the idea that not all foods have to be served warm, or even cooked to be honest. (One of our favorite summer meals is a simple caprese salad – fresh mozzarella & tomatoes). However even to this day, when I prepare an entree to be served cold, I get that slightly excited feel I would get as a child. Summer has finally arrived when its “too hot too cook.”
Hoping to expand on my summer-time, cold entree repertoire, I was excited when I caught this recipe on an episode of The Barefoot Contessa (the food network show hosted by Ina Garten.) A true believer in her recipes, I decided to give this one a try (I am sure you all have your cookbook authors/chefs that you swear by – Ina is one of mine. I have never made a recipe of hers that hasn’t rocketed to the top of my “best dishes” list). I have tweaked the recipe more to my liking: the original calls for an ungodly amount of vegetable oil, I’ve added chopped peanuts, changed to whole wheat pasta, and I played around with different vegetable combinations – I’ve even added chicken. But no matter the final details, the basis of this recipe is rock solid. A bright, refreshing meal, this pasta dish combines the classic Asian flavors of sesame, soy, peanut, ginger, and scallions. Red peppers and sugar snap peas offer a fresh crunch, and add vibrant color to the salad. All the flavors and textures work well to compliment each other – as in most Asian cuisine, this dish has balance. There is something to interest all your tastes: sweet from the peanuts, salty from the soy, spice from the red pepper flakes, fresh green from the ginger and scallion.
Scott and I eat this for dinner ourselves, but I have also turned this dish into my go-to recipe for entertaining, especially pot-lucking. Summer is the time for endless BBQs and picnics. Especially living in New England, we all come out from hibernation and start socializing once again. However, when asked to bring a dish to a picnic, I am so bored by the regular stars: potato salad, cole slaw, pasta salad. While all great classic dishes, I crave something different (not to mention you know when you put that bowl of potato salad down, it will be sitting next to three other versions!) Loving this dish for ourselves, I figured it was a perfect side dish to share with our friends. My theory proved right the first time I took the dish to a 4th of July BBQ. I made a double batch (Scott has a large family) and plunked it down on the table. When I finally made my way through the food line, I was shocked to see the salad almost completely gone! I was lucky that night to even get a bite. So next time you need a nice cool meal to serve on a hot summer night, or when planning what to make for the weekend’s BBQ, give this fresh noodle salad a try. Whether as a meal itself or a side to great BBQ, I promise you won’ t be disappointed.