Quintessentially summer, this fun pasta salad is delicious, healthy and make-ahead. It’s perfect for pot lucks, parties and picnics.
It seems like a zillion years ago, but in reality it was September 2011, about six months into this blogging adventure called The Café Sucre Farine.
Scott and I had just arrived in London for a visit with our daughter, Cait and her family.
We had a lot to learn about blogging back then, but just like these days, we both had a love for great food and a fun outing for us often involved discovering delicious new restaurants, bistros, cafés, bakeries, etc. Before we left for London, I’d read about a little deli/café not too far from Hyde Park that was starting to get rave reviews. I emailed Cait and shared that it might be something worth investigating.
Our flight arrived in London early in the day and, after getting settled, Cait suggested that we check out my new “find”. It was a cool, crisp autumn day with clear blue skies as we walked to the Tube station (the London underground) and caught a train to Kensington. Once we arrived, there was a short walk, up a winding, shop-lined hill, then a left turn onto the narrow, cobblestoned Holland Street. Not far down the charming lane, we spotted a modern, red lettered sign above the window: OTTOLENGHI.
Oh my! Our eyes were wide when we stepped through the door and saw the dazzling array of artisan breads, fresh, vibrant salads, delicious looking sides, amazing entrees and out-of-this-world tarts, pies, cookies, bars, meringues… After much debate, we made our selections, and they were carefully packed in little brown take-out boxes. From there we made our way to Hyde Park for an incredibly delicious, never-to-be-forgotten, picnic lunch.
I’ve been an Ottolenghi fan ever since, although I had no idea that within a few years Yotam Ottolenghi would become a world-wide culinary celebrity. He has now authored four best selling cookbooks, Ottolenghi, Plenty, Jerusalem and the latest, Plenty More. Yup, I own them all and they are a continual source of inspiration for me.
Whenever we visit our family in London, a trip to one of the Ottolenghi deli/cafés or to his upscale restaurant, Nopi is always on our wish list. We never fail to be delighted with the fresh, ever-changing menus that are offered. The last time we were there, on a misty, quintessential London day, we decided it would be fun to make the trek to Ottolenghi in Islington (north London) as we had never been to that location. As usual, lunch was fabulous. Scott brought his camera (of course) and took some fun pics…
I was paging through the Plenty cookbook a while back, and was stopped in my tracks by a beautiful salad called “Tomato Party”. I bookmarked the page, knowing that, as soon as tomato season rolled around, this one would be rolling out of The Café kitchen. Really, how could I resist a salad with the name, “Tomato Party”?
I love all the different varieties of tomatoes in this salad and the fact that some are roasted till sweet and caramelized and the rest are left to shine on their own. I did adapt the recipe just a bit by making a simple lemon-garlic dressing, to keep the salad moist and add some bright flavor.
We’ve enjoyed the salad on it’s own, as a side with grilled chicken and in a pita wrap with hummus and shredded chicken. I’ve also topped it with crumbled Feta and a scatter of Kalamata olives and served it over baby arugula with a drizzle of Zoe’s Dressing. It would be perfect for a picnic or potluck, and is sure to bring oohs and ahhs when you uncover it, revealing the stunning array of tomatoes and tiny pasta.
The original recipe calls for regular couscous as well as fregola, which is a small round pasta originating in Sardinia. Fregola is not commonly found here in the U.S., so I substituted Israeli couscous, also known as pearl pasta or pearl couscous. I think the combination of the tiny regular couscous and the larger Israeli couscous makes for a lovely texture and really pretty presentation.
So… if you happen to be in London, be sure to put Ottolenghi on your itinerary. Not traveling anytime soon? Whip up a bowl of Ottolenghi’s Tomato Party Couscous Salad – it’s probably the next best thing! And you know what? I have a feeling it will become one of your favorite summer recipes – it’s certainly near the top of our list!
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- For the dressing:
- 1 garlic clove crushed
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- For the salad:
- ¾ cup couscous
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- ⅔ cup boiling water
- 1 cup Israeli Couscous
- 4 medium plum tomatoes quartered
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup yellow cherry tomatoes halved
- 2 tablespoons roughly chopped oregano
- 3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
- 2 cups of small tomatoes halved (use as many colors and varieties of tomatoes as you can find).
- Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
- Combine garlic, lemon juice, the 1/4 cup olive oil, salt and pepper in a small jar with a tight fitting lid. Set aside.
- Put the regular couscous in a bowl with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and 1 teaspoon olive oil. Add 2/3 cup boiling water, stir and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Set aside for 12 minutes, then remove plastic wrap and separate the grains with a fork. Set aside to cool.
- Bring a medium size pot of boiling water to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon olive oil and Israeli couscous. Cook for 8 minutes or until al dente. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water. Allow to cool.
- Meanwhile, spread the quartered vine tomatoes over half of a large baking pan and sprinkle with the brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and a generous grind of black pepper. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, then remove pan from the oven and increase the temperature to 400F. On the empty side of the baking pan, spread the yellow tomatoes. Season them with 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Return to the oven and roast for 12 minutes longer.
- Remove the tomatoes from oven and allow to cool. Mix together the regular couscous and the Israeli couscous (pearl pasta) in a large bowl. Add the dressing, herbs, cooked tomatoes with all their juices, and the small fresh tomatoes. Very gently mix together using your hands. Taste for seasoning: add salt and pepper as needed.