My work in the world of food gives me countless reasons to love my job, every single day. I love to cook, eat, and travel, and I thrive on the opportunity to learn about kitchens and culinary traditions, farming and ingredients, marketplaces and celebrations; all about people and how food figures in everyday life.
In the process of learning about all these things and sharing what I find, I get to meet an incredible number of fascinating, wonderful people. In many cases, these encounters lead to friendships which enrich, enhance, and brighten my life. One very special, very precious friend I’ve made in my food-centered work is the extraordinary, brilliant, passionate, generous and incomparable Nathalie Dupree.
Here I am visiting with Nathalie during her book signing at Southern Season in my town of Chapel Hill, North Carolina USA, a few years back. Nathalie wrote this magnificent book, Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking, with my friend, Cynthia Graubart. The landmark book earned them a James Beard Award, and I cherish it, both as a reference book and as a cookbook. I am forever moving it back and forth, from my office to my kitchen counter and back again. Good upper-arm exercise, as it is a beautiful, useful tome.
I get to see Nathalie at food conferences and culinary gatherings throughout the year, and I am always planning my next trip to visit her at home in Charleston SC USA. On my last visit a few months back, Nathalie had company coming that evening, so I joined her in her kitchen to help put together the evening’s menu.
She made this pasta salad and I have enjoyed it for supper as well as for parties and covered dish contributions ever since. It’s simple to make, pretty, portable, and delicious, the kind of recipe which not only works as a go-to dish in my kitchen, but which I am always inspired to vary. It’s inspiration, an invitation to play with whatever I have on hand, and adapt to each season through the year.
First you toast pine nuts in olive oil in a warm skillet. While these cool, cook a pound of pretty short pasta. I’m partial to farfalle/butterflies/bowties, but penne, ziti, rotelle, and elbow macaroni all do just fine.
Slice cherry tomatoes and red grapes in half, and buzz up a quick pesto in a blender or food processor: I used parsley, cilantro, and dill for this iteration, grinding them to green goodness with pecans, garlic, parmigiano reggiano, and olive oil, speedy-quick.
These good things get tossed with the warm, drained pasta and handfuls of baby spinach and shredded cooked chicken, or turkey or shrimp. For a vegetarian version, you could sautee firm tofu with garlic, sliced mushrooms, soy sauce, hot sauce, and a little honey to give flavor and color.
This generous and tasty dish holds up nicely, through a party where people come and go. It plays well with other dishes, from soup and deviled eggs to grilled salmon, boiled shrimp, or spicy chicken wings.
I made notes about the dish that day, while Nathalie was tossing things together and simultaneously sharing hilarious stories with us early-bird guests. I love being present when she is offering wisdom, insight, and encouragement to the crew of friends, admirers, students, and mentees who, like me, love coming by to hang out and spend time with the amazing treasure that is Nathalie Dupree.
Here’s another photo of good friends having good times with Nathalie, and the cover of Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking. Scroll on down for the recipe:
- 1 pound bowtie pasta (farfalle; or elbow macaroni; penne, rotelle, or your favorite shape)
- 2 cups fresh green herbs, coarsely chopped (flat-leaf parsley, cilantro and dill for example)
- 1 cup olive oil, plus 2 teaspoons, divided
- 1 cup freshly grated parmigianno reggiano or pecorino romano
- 1 cup pine nuts
- 3 cups red grapes, halved lengthwise (or mix red and green)
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2 to 3 cups fresh baby spinach, or chopped or torn spinach, or arugula
- 7 green onions, trimmed and finely chopped
- Freshly ground pepper
- Cook the Pasta, by filling a large pot half full of water, covering, and bringing to a boil over high heat.
- Add about 1 tablespoon salt, return to the boil, and then stir in pasta.
- Cook uncovered, stirring now and then, until tender but tender --- just right to the bite (test it!), 10 - 13 minutes.
- Reserve 3/4 cup pasta cooking water, and then drain pasta well; return pasta to the pot and cover to keep warm.
- Make the Pesto, combining the fresh herbs and olive oil in a blender or food processor and covering with the lid..
- Process or blend, stopping often to scrape down the sides, until evenly combined into a rich green velvety sauce.
- Transfer to a medium bowl and stir in the cheese.
- Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and a good grind of pepper; taste and adjust seasonings if needed; then set aside.
- To toast the pine nuts. pour remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil into a skillet and warm over medium high heat.
- Add pine nuts and cook, stirring often, until very lightly brown and aromatic; then turn out onto a plate to cool..
- Combine pasta, pesto sauce, and chicken, and toss to mix well; add a few splashes of pasta water to help coat the pasta with the sauce.
- Add the pine nuts, grapes, cherry tomatoes, spinach, and green onions and toss well.
- Add 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper; then taste and adjust to your liking.
- Transfer to a big serving bowl and garnish with herbs if desired
- Serve at room temperature.