Rainbow Pasta Salad with Roasted Roots and Oven-Dried Tomatoes

Got Valentines plans? How about the greatest pasta salad of all time

This is the greatest pasta salad of all time - so great, in fact, that you might want to make it for your lover for Valentine's Day if you plan to save room for dessert. (And go ahead and take that however you like, friends). 

The only way this isn't going to make your next date night? If your partner dislikes despises detests loathes hates practically retches at the sight of beetroot. Sorry, sweetie. I didn't really mean to poison you. I just kinda thought maybe I could sneak it past you? Ummmm, guess not.

 But let's move on from marital quibbles, shall we? For all the rest of you out there, this is pure magic: roasted beetroot and sweet potato, oven-dried tomatoes, garden-fresh basil and amaranth, organic feta, red leaf lettuce, local olives, Italian pasta and homemade vinaigrette - topped by a perfect, creamy avocado and a pinch or two of Maldon sea salt. Just about the prettiest thing you'll ever devour.

This isn't your quick, throw-together pasta salad. I mean, look at it! Because you have to prepare and cook the veggies you'll need a little time on this one ... but a lot of that is hands-off, roasting time.  And speaking of hands, don't forget to wear gloves if you're concerned about turning pink. Beetroots can be a bit messy, and if you're crafting a romantic dinner then stained skin could be a little awkward. Unless you're into kinky stuff.

Put down the beetroot, we have work to do.

So I hope you love this recipe as much as I do. I'm currently growing sweet potatoes, but they're not ready yet, so these were bought ... as was pretty much everything except for the basil and amaranth, which I grew myself. And if I haven't yet convinced you here or here to start growing amaranth, well just add this pretty dish to your list of inspiration.

Have a great day, and a great salad,
Amanda xx

Pasta Salad with Roasted Roots and 
Oven Dried Tomatoes
serves 2-3 (romantic, right?)

The time
15 min prep + 30 min roasting + 20 min cooling

The ingredients
The roasted and oven-dried 
2 small beetroots, peeled and chopped into 1cm cubes
1 med sweet potato, peeled and chopped into 1cm cubes
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil*
sea salt
10 baby roma tomatoes (or 20 cherry tomatoes), thickly sliced

The salad
a handful of finely sliced or chopped basil and amaranth (optional) + de-stemmed basil flowers and amaranth flowers (optional)
a handful of crumbled feta
a handful of mixed olives*
half a head of red-leaf lettuce, washed and finely sliced or chopped

a ripe avocado, chopped into 1cm cubes (try to make it prettier than I did)
375g nice pasta - try to pick a variety that will hold your vinaigrette (I used orechette)

The vinaigrette
4 or 6 Tbs extra virgin olive oil**
2 or 3 Tbs white wine vinegar
1/2 clove minced garlic (totally optional)
generous pinch sea salt

Always go for organic ingredients when you can!

*If you're a Brisbane local, get onto FoodConnect and order a) the best local olives ever and b) the best local olive oil (in a 4L tin, I might add). I know you use olive oil like I do. That'll last you two months at best. Am I right?

**Some people prefer more or less dressing on their salads - so just use a 2:1 ratio of oil to vinegar as I suggest here, according to preference. Or make the full amount and reserve some until after you've sampled your salad first.

The process
1. Preheat your oven to 180C (360F).

2. Spread out your sweet potato and beetroot cubes separately (or they won't keep their own lovely colours - damn that beetroot) on a large tray (or two separate trays) and shake them around gently in the olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and pop them into the oven. Roast for 20-30 min until they have that goldenish, starting to crispen roastedness about them. You know what I mean, and if you don't then sample them until you do. When they're ready, pull the trays out of the oven and set aside.

3. While the roots roast, place your sliced baby tomatoes on a tray lined with baking paper. You don't want to use oil or salt here because you want them to dry out while roasting - and oil preserves moisture. Salt makes moisture come out ... but you don't want your tomatoes sitting in the liquid, either, so just evenly distribute them on the tray and pop them in the oven. Hopefully you have 3 shelves? If not, you can do steps 2 and 3 in stages as needed. Roast until they're semi-dried tomato looking (see above), and then remove them from the oven and let them cool on the tray.

4. In a large bowl, assemble all the salad ingredients (except for the pasta and the avocado and a few basil + amaranth flowers) with the vinaigrette. 

Boil the pasta, rinse it in cold water until cooled, and tip it in with the salad/vinaigrette combo. 

Chop the avocado, sprinkle it with a tiny bit of vinegar (so it doesn't brown) and set aside.

5. When they're at room temperature or so, mix the roasted veggies in with the pasta + salad/vinaigrette. Add the avocado last so it doesn't get mushy - though if you have a firmer avocado you might be able to toss it through without crushing it. Mine lately have all been super-soft, so I just put them over the top of the salad after serving.

Dish out, seasoning with flaky sea salt, pepper and a sprinkling of herby flowers, if you have them. Serve with wine. And enjoy!