Chosen Bites: Hot summer nights, cool-cool food

When summer starts to really sizzle and dinner needs to be made, no kind of food seems right. But pasta salads make great sides and satisfying mains.

Pasta salad 311 (photo credit: Wiki Commons)
Pasta salad 311
(photo credit: Wiki Commons)
When summer starts to really sizzle, I develop into a picky eater. Sure, I still have to eat, but nothing really seems just right. I hate heating up the house, and a cold sandwich is just so lunch-ish. I turn to my favorite comfort food and truly chill out. Pasta salads make great sides and satisfying mains. The trick is to make the salad with lots of different textures, colors and a big punch of flavor with tangy vinaigrettes. Perfect do-ahead pasta salads are great for weeknight dinners and carefree Shabbat lunches. I took my favorite summer stand-by pasta salad and spun them this year, Jewish style. Enjoy!

Borscht Pasta Salad
Serves 6
This healthy and riotously colored salad started out as a sort of food joke. It turned out to be as delightful and refreshing as its namesake ethnic soup.
2 pounds red beets + 1 pound for cooking the pasta
2 pounds golden beets
1 pound rotini pasta
3 large cucumbers, peeled and diced
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill + extra for garnish
1 large red onion, diced
¼ lemon juice
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup sour cream (optional)
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350
Rub the beets with olive oil, and wrap them individually in foil. Roast the beets for about 45 minutes or until a paring knife can be easily inserted. Set aside to cool.
Grate the 1 pound of red beet into a large saucepan filled with water. Bring to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente (about 8 minutes). The grated beet turns the pasta a “celebratory” red color.
Peel the roasted beets, their skins should just slide off. Dice the beets.
*Chef’s hint: Peel and dice the yellow beet first so your cutting board and hands will not be stained red from the intense “celebratory” red beet’s color.
Toss all of the salad ingredients into a large bowl while the pasta is still warm. Chill the salad.
Before serving dollop with sour cream, if using, and chopped dill.
Chicken Noodle Salad
Serves 6
Hot summer nights on the patio and sipping hot chicken soup is just so wrong. Digging into a plate of cool, refreshing Chicken Noodle Salad is just so right!
2 cups chicken stock, (prefer homemade!)
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 pound favorite pasta, I like to use a healthy whole wheat pasta for this recipe
3 celery ribs, peeled lengthwise into ribbons with a vegetable peeler
3 medium carrots, grated
¼ pound fresh green beans, cut into ½ inch segments
½ cup fresh or frozen peas
2 shallots, minced
1 medium zucchini, sliced
1 small hot pepper, minced (yes, I put this in my chicken soup!)
For the vinaigrette
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon style mustard
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Garnishes: chopped parsley, chopped dill.
Bring the chicken stock to a simmer in a medium sauce pan and gently poach the chicken breasts until firm and cooked through (about 8 minutes). Remove the chicken.
Add the pasta to the chicken stock, carrots, green beans and peas and cook until the pasta is al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain the pasta and the vegetables.
Place all of the salad ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk together the vinaigrette and drizzle over the salad. Chill and garnish with parsley and dill before serving.
Laura Frankel is the executive chef at Spertus Kosher Catering and the author of  - Jewish Cooking for all Seasons and Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes.