Despite doing my best to encourage the kids to have school dinners, they keep asking for packed lunches. I don’t know about you but I get so bored with making endless ham or marmite sandwiches with safe, but plain vegetable sticks on the side. Besides which, I’d rather go hungry than willingly eat a cucumber stick!
On the other hand, I don’t want to spend half my evening making endless variations on lunch for each member of the household. One answer is carb-based pasta or cous cous salads. We could also use rice, but given that it can be dangerous if kept too long after cooking, I’m not keen on using it in kids lunches, which may well end up being unrefrigerated all morning.
So back to the pasta salad. Pasta is normally a popular option with children, it’s quick to cook and it’s a lot harder to get wrong than grains that need soaking, such as cous cous or bulgur wheat (has anyone else added too much liquid and ended up with cous cous soup or is it just me?) Now, an important point on pasta shapes. If you’re eating this at your desk, fusilli may be one of the most widely available shapes, but as the front of my dress last week showed, it does have a tendency to dive off your fork unpredictably whilst you’re distracted by that vital email. Penne, orechietti or farfalle are definitely easier to manoevre, or to save even more time, you can use one of the miniature pasta shapes. These only take about 5 minutes to cook as well.
Colours of Italy sounds like a bit of a fancy name for a family staple, but the truth is, I made up the name on the hoof to make it sound more appealing to a particularly nosey small person who appeared in the kitchen just as I was stirring the vegetables into the cooked pasta. Nevertheless, the green of the mange tout and courgettes, and the red of the chorizo and tomato against the white pasta are slightly reminiscent of the Italian flag. A lucky coincidence!
Colours of Italy Pasta Salad
Serves 2 adults and 2 small children for lunch
200g uncooked weight pasta (use more or less depending on your appetite)
5cm length of chorizo, chopped into small pieces, or a palm sized amount of salami
1/2 a courgette, chopped into small pieces
5-7 mangetout or sugar snap peas, chopped (you could also use peas – I was using what was in the fridge)
About 6 cherry tomatoes, chopped
For the dressing:
4 tsp olive oil
2 tsp balsamic vinegar (try other types if you like them)
1 tsp tomato puree
salt and pepper to taste
1) Bring a medium sized saucepan of water to boil on the stove. Once it’s at a rolling boil, add the pasta and stir, to make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom.
2) While the pasta is cooking (which depending on the size of your pasta could take anything from 3-15 minutes), make sure all the veg and the chorizo/salami is chopped ready to include at the end.
3) When the pasta is ready (try a bit – depending on how you like your pasta it may be al dente to soft and floppy, but if definitely shouldn’t taste chalky!) drain it over a sieve then quickly add the pasta back into the still-warm pan.
4) Tip all the vegetables and the chorizo into the pan and give it all a good stir to mix well. The residual heat from the pasta will help the flavours mix.
5) Quickly mix together the dressing ingredients, do a taste check and add more vinegar/seasoning if required. Don’t worry if it looks thick with the tomato puree – it’s supposed to look quite gloopy and syrupy.
6) Pour the dressing over the pasta mixture and stir well to make sure it’s mixed in properly. Decant into containers, leave to cool and then refrigerate overnight, ready for lunchboxes the next day.
The vegetables and chorizo here are suggestions based on what I had in the fridge – feel free to vary according to your tastes as long as what you use is safe to eat without being cooked (so no raw sausage!) If you find new combinations, let me know how they work out!