Warm Mediterranean Salad


There is a nice shopping mall about 2 hours away that I visit when I have to go to a mall. Well, truth be told, I probably only shop at Williams-Sonoma there, unless I’m Christmas shopping. Then I’m a bit more adventurous.

The mall has a nice restaurant that I go to because of the convenience. But it’s good! You’ll all probably be shocked that it’s a chain restaurant, called Pepperoni Grill.

The menu is nice, the restaurant is always clean, and the service great. Surprisingly great.

Oddly enough, I’ve always ordered the same thing, which is a warm Mediterranean Tortellini and Vegetable salad, served with a creamy balsamic vinaigrette.

I say this is odd, because typically, I would order something new on the menu. But, after 20+ years, I keep ordering this salad. It’s so good, so well prepared, and so satisfying.

Then I had the brilliant idea to replicate the salad at home. It doesn’t look exactly the same because the restaurant uses tricolor tortellini, but mine tasted just as good! Being that it’s not springtime, I opted for green beans instead of asparagus.

Warm Mediterranean Salad
inspired by Pepperoni Grill’s salad
Serves 12

3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons yogurt
1 tablespoon agave syrup
2 teaspoons whole-grain Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 pounds small, red-skinned potatoes, quartered
1 pound trimmed green Beans
1 pound yellow squash, coarsely chopped
32 ounces cheese tortellini
10 uncles spring lettuces
Sliced sun-dried tomatoes, the kind stored in oil
Kalamata olives, drained, halved
Grated Parmesan

To prepare the vinaigrette, place all of the ingredients in a small blender jar. Blend until smooth. Taste for salt. Can be made a day ahead, but bring the vinaigrette to room temperature before making the salad.

The vegetables must be prepared separately for the salad, in order to have them all at the proper cook. It’s also best for all of the vegetables and the tortellini to be warm when served, so one must move quickly!

In a steamer basket, cook the potatoes just until tender. Place in a large bowl, toss with a few tablespoons of vinaigrette, and set aside. If you don’t like a lot of dressing, use some olive oil instead.

Cook the green beans in the steamer basket and add them to the potatoes. Toss together gently, adding a little more vinaigrette to keep the vegetables moist.

Do the same with the yellow squash, making sure not to overcook. Add to the potatoes and beans.

Cook the cheese tortellini according to package directions. Drain and let cool slightly.

Add the still warm tortellini to the vegetables. Add the desired amount of vinaigrette and and toss gently.

Add the sun-dried tomatoes and olives to taste.

Then sprinkle on a generous amount of Parmesan. No mixing necessary.

Serve warm.

I like a lot of vinaigrette on my salads, but I’m aware that not everyone does. So when I suggest to add the desired amount of vinaigrette, that’s exactly what I mean!

My mother’s secret to a good potato salad was to always add some olive oil to the warm, just-cooked potatoes. So that’s what I did in this salad, using the vinaigrette instead of just olive oil, as well as adding some vinaigrette to the cooked tortellini. This keeps them moist and prevents sticking.

In anticipation of making this salad, I googled it to see if I was making something fairly unique or not. Turns out, there are tortellini/pasta salads, and there are potato salads. This salad really combines the two – a pasta salad with a significant amount of veggies.

The vegetables are along the lines of “primavera” vegetables, and can definitely be changed depending on what’s in season. Zucchini, broccoli, baby carrots, asparagus… all would be good. They could be grilled as well.

And of course this salad would be wonderful with grilled meat, but I prefer it the way it is.

So would I visit Pepperoni Grill for a special night out? No. But the fact that I can expect quality with what I’m ordering and enjoy a leisurely lunch, with a decent glass of wine, during a day of shopping, is really nice.

Shrimp and Sausage Soup


It was when I first prepared Creole and Cajun cuisines that I learned about pairing proteins together that I hadn’t discovered before. I mixed chicken and ham in a étouffé, shrimp and chicken in a gumbo, and ham and Andouille sausage in a jambalaya. All of these pairings go so surprisingly well together, that when I decided to make a soup today, I decided on the combination of shrimp and sausage, inspired by these cuisines.
Now, this sausage could have been Andouille, Italian, or even Chorizo, but I chose Polish sausage, otherwise known as Polska Kielbasa. I goes well with beef, chicken, and seafood.

I had no real plan when I started this soup, and it could have gone many different directions, but I’ll share what I did because it came out so wonderfully! And even though it’s summer, the shrimp and the veggies lighten it up.

Shrimp and Sausage Soup

Olive oil or bacon grease, about 3 tablespoons
1 purple onion, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 pound Polska Kielbasa, sliced
1 – 28 ounce can diced tomatoes
2 yellow squash, chopped
Chicken broth, 2-3 cups
1 heaping tablespoon hot paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
Black pepper
Ground cayenne, optional
1 pound shrimp, cleaned, sliced in halves
Cayenne pepper flakes

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat. You want to sauté without any caramelization. Add the onion and bell pepper and sauté for five minutes.
Then add the Polish sausage and turn up the heat. You want some browning on the sausage.

Then add the can of tomatoes and the squash. Add enough chicken broth to make it soupy, 2 cups at least.
Then add the spices. Bring the soup to a boil, then simmer and cook, uncovered, for about 20 – 25 minutes.
Add the sliced shrimp and cook just until they become opaque.

just after the shrimp was added to the soup

just after the shrimp was added to the soup

right when the shrimp are cooked they become opaque instead of translucent

right when the shrimp are cooked they become opaque instead of translucent

To serve, sprinkle soup with some cayenne pepper flakes. If desired, you can also serve the soup with avocado slices.

note: You could certainly make many variations of this soup. I chose the yellow squash because I have an overabundance in my garden at this time. And it could be definitely made more Southwestern with the addition of chorizo, chipotle peppers and lots of cilantro. Corn would be nice as well! And, black beans….

I encourage everybody to make a soup today. Once you get the hang of it, you can make soup in your sleep. Trust me!