Saffron Pasta Salad

Saffron Pasta Salad Recipe


Wayne had a meeting near St. Helena a while back. It's about 2 hours north of San Francisco, and as he was walking out the door I decided I'd hop in the car too. The drive is nice. Particularly if you sneak off the main roads. Yellow swatches of mustard buffer the vineyards, and wildflowers seemed to be coming out of their winter slumber here and there. After a quick stop at Bouchon Bakery, we arrived in St. Helena late in the afternoon. There are many ways to spend two hours on a drizzly day in that part of the world and I entertained myself by taking pictures, browsing shops, and sipping hot coffee. Today's recipe was inspired by a little book I picked up for $5 in a second-hand bookstore. A first edition copy of Diane Worthington's The Taste of Summer had a recipe for a pasta salad dressed with a saffron vinaigrette that caught my attention. I held off on making it until asparagus started showing up in the markets here, and it was well worth the wait.

Saffron Pasta Salad

Diane's version combined a vibrant red-wine and saffron vinaigrette with late spring produce (asparagus, fresh peas, zucchini), and orzo pasta. I did a variation using only asparagus and a toasted whole wheat orecchiette pasta from Puglia. There were no peas or zucchini at the market at the time, and everyone seemed to be out of the whole wheat orzo I normally use.

Not everyone likes whole wheat pastas - I totally get that. They can be heavy and gloppy - something I was worried about as I was draining the orecchiette. But, the strong saffron vinaigrette stood up beautifully to the pasta here - the key was letting it sit for a while after dressing it. The orecchiette I used is a bit obscure, so let me offer up a few alternative suggestions. Diane's recipe calls for orzo - I'd certainly make this again using whole wheat orzo. For those of you who want to ease your way into the whole wheat / whole grain pasta thing, I suggest going half/half, it really lightens things up while still incorporating more whole ingredients. For example:

- 1/2 whole wheat penne pasta + 1/2 regular penne pasta
- 1/2 whole wheat orzo + 1/2 regular orzo

The irritating part is that I'm also going to encourage you to cook each type of pasta in its own pot. Aside from that, lefftovers make a good lunch, and if asparagus isn't quite in season where you live I can imagine an alternative versions with either chopped kale or broccoli working well :)...

Related links:
- Revised updated edition of The Taste of Summer (Chronicle Books, June, 2000)

 
 
 
 

Saffron Pasta Salad

I used a toasted wheat orecchiette here, the original recipe calls for orzo. I offer up a few suggestions in the main entry.

Saffron vinaigrette:
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1 medium garlic clove, smashed
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup / 120 ml olive oil
bit of sugar/honey or splash of cream (if needed)

12 ounces / 340 g dried pasta (see head notes)

1 pound / 16 oz / 453g thin asparagus, ends trimmed, cut into 1/2-inch segments

3 ounces / 85g goat cheese, crumbled
fresh chopped chive and toasted pine nuts (optional)

To make the dressing add the vinegar and saffron to a small saucepan. Over gentle heat bring just to a simmer. Remove from heat (immediately) and let cool.

Sprinkle the garlic clove with the salt and mash and chop into a paste. Place this in a mixing bowl along with the cooled vinegar and saffron, lemon juice, and mustard. Whisk together, then gradually whisk in the olive oil. Taste, and if it is too harsh for your liking you can soften some of the acidity with a bit of sweetener or a splash of cream. Set aside.

Bring a large pasta pot of water to a boil, salt well and add the pasta. Cook until al dente. Just 30 seconds before the pasta is finished cooking add the asparagus. You just barely want to cook the asparagus. Drain, rinse with cold water, and shake off as much extra water as possible.

Place the pasta in a large bowl, toss with the saffron vinaigrette, and set aside or refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (or up to a day). Toss again, taste, and add a bit more salt if needed.

You can serve this slightly chilled, at room temperature, or even reheated in a skillet (really good), topped with tiny dollops of goat cheese. A handful of chopped chives and toasted pine nuts makes this extra good.

Serves 6-8.

Inspired by the Orzo Vegetable Salad in Saffron Vinaigrette in Diane Worthington's The Taste of Summer (Bantam Books, 1988)

Prep time: 20 min - Cook time: 35 min

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Your Comments


Anonymous
March 20, 2010

Dear Heidi, the pasta you used transformed the color palette of this dish, it really looks fantastic! I'm wondering if I could make half the ammount of vinaigrette, since saffron is quite expensive here... about 20 dollars for less than a Tbsp. I normally use just a pinch of threads each time.

Thanks.

 

Sprout
March 20, 2010

"Yellow swatches of mustard buffered the vineyards" .... wow, great writing! Nothing complements good photos like solid writing.

It's like what a good sprinkling of sea salt does to a chocolate chip cookie!

Thanks for sharing this.

 

Joe @ Eden Kitchen
March 21, 2010

Sounds great! I haven't seen any whole wheat orzo here so I think I will try it with some whole spelt pagodas that I've been using recently. I'm really looking forward to trying that vinaigrette. Thanks!

 

Hari Chandana
March 21, 2010

yummy and helathy salad...

 

Martina
March 21, 2010

I like the combination of asparagus with cheese and pasta - sounds delicious! And I love your choice of bowls and plates.

Heidi, do you think the recipe would work with white asparagus too?
(I would cook the white asparagus only for 1 minute, such that it is still firm and crunchy.)

 

I'm so excited about asparagus finally being in season! I love the vinaigrette recipe--I often one very similar without the saffron, but I'll be sure to add it next time and give it a try! Thanks!

 

Simply Life
March 21, 2010

Oh I'm sure that saffron makes it soooo good!

 

I have all of the ingredients on hand to make this. I'd make it with brown rice pasta because I am gluten free but otherwise, this looks like a light and tasty lunch.

I'm making your coconut red lentil soup today and I can't wait!

 

What a wonderful looking recipe. I love saffron, it has such a unique taste and you only need a pinch- it is worth the expense, in my opinion.

And I love, love, love your stories... what did you pick up from the bakery?

xo
Kris

 

Sarah @ Mum In Bloom
March 21, 2010

Not sure we'd like the recipe but I enjoyed your post and beautiful photography. Doesn't it just tickle you when you get a well-loved cookbook from a second hand store? Love your blog :)

 

The Gardener's Eden
March 21, 2010

You have brought back some lovely memories. I always enjoyed the ride from San Francisco to Rutherford, where friends had a place. It's been a long time, but I can still remember the smell of the spring air with the windows rolled down.
This recipe captures -perfectly- the feeling of spring. I can't wait for fresh asparagus here in New England. This will be wonderful.
Thank you...
Michaela

 

Cookin' Canuck
March 21, 2010

We typically eat whole wheat pasta in our house, but I have never come across whole wheat orzo. I'll have to keep a look out for it. The saffron vinaigrette is a great idea for a light, flavorful preparation.

 

Cooking with Michele
March 21, 2010

Your post caught my attention when you mentioned the pasta from Puglia. I lead culinary tours in Italy about once a year and am heading back to Lecce in Puglia in two weeks for a week spent at a cooking school there. Did you travel there or did you get the pasta after it was imported here? It's a lovely town - add Lecce to your list if you haven't made it there yet!

 

Rivka
March 21, 2010

The blobs of goat cheese with that bright orange dressing look like saffron-coated cauliflower florets! Beautiful salad.

 

Beautiful salad! The saffron dressing piqued my interest.

 

bunkycooks
March 21, 2010

Maybe some of your beautiful photos will inspire me to switch to more whole grains. Just maybe...I love the saffron in the vinaigrette.

 

Ruth
March 21, 2010

Because your blog always makes me happy...and who wouldn't looking at your mouthwatering delights...I'm passing on the Happy 101 Award http://onceuponafeast.blogspot.com/2010/03/happy-101-award.html

 

Rowaida Flayhan
March 21, 2010

love love your book Heidi and enjoying your recipes a lot. So healthy and delicious!
Thank you and wish you great success
Regards,
Rowaida

 

Hallie
March 21, 2010

I've not made many recipes with saffron, but have been wanting to for quite a while. I was just waiting for "the one" to try. I think I've found it!

Thanks, Heidi!

 

Rachelle
March 21, 2010

This looks delicious -- I've been wanting more recipes that use saffron.

To use both whole wheat and white pasta in a recipe, I just put the whole wheat pasta in the water first, return to a boil and cook 2-3 minutes. Then add white pasta and time as usual.

 

Anonymous
March 21, 2010

Looks amazing! The pasta you've used is just beautiful. I'm totally intrigued by the flavors here.

 

Ladygrey
March 21, 2010

wow, this looks delicious! The whole wheat orzo makes this salad extra special.

 

aparna
March 21, 2010

Sounds like a lovely recipe...can't wait to try it. I like the saffron in it...definitely unique and exotic.
Thanks Heidi.

 

Jamie G. Dougherty
March 21, 2010

I am doing this tonight! We just got back from a long drive and I needed some inspiration. Thanks Heidi.

 

Nivedita
March 21, 2010

Why each pasta in it's own pot, Heidi?

HS: Hi Nivedita, the whole wheat pasta takes longer to cook.

 

Saffron is one of my favorite spices. What a great looking pasta dish, Heidi. I love the colors.

 

OperaJoys
March 21, 2010

I've never used saffron because of its high (to me) price, especially since I don't think it has any taste (but maybe I'm wrong about the taste). Yellow color is just not worth that much money IMO, so I'm obviously missing something!

If this recipe was made without saffron and a person ate it with eyes closed, would they taste a difference without the saffron? Have I missed an important experience here?

I just don't know.

 

Renée
March 21, 2010

Can you tell me where I can get whole wheat orzo in San Francisco?

HS: Hi Renée. Look in the bin section at Rainbow Grocery.

 

Cathy
March 21, 2010

Heidi, gon' girl! Your photography and writing is seduction enough. I would eat whatever you threw on the table because of your respect for food.

Your comment board has made me decide to bone up on saffron. I travel quite a bit and will find it in other countries for a small steal. I bought truckloads from the beaches of Goa.

 

Angela@spinachtiger
March 21, 2010

I like the heartiness this dish suggests. I'm not the biggest fan of whole wheat pasta unless I make it myself, but I'm staying open to the idea. The saffron is a nice surprise.

 

Sonia
March 21, 2010

I have been happily making your recipes for months now, and recommending them to everyone I know. Quick question--any substitutions anyone would recommend for the mustard?

 

Nadia
March 21, 2010

I originally got on your site tonight to make your Red Pesto Ravioli recipe (it's my favorite on here), but found this new post. I switched mid gear and decided to make the viniagrette and use it on the tortellini I was making. I was already cooking the tomatoes in the oven, so I added those on top. The blanched asparagus was just right along with the goat cheese and the pasta. Thanks so much! Love your site!

 

emma. our kitchen
March 21, 2010

This looks so simple and delicious - I can't wait to give it a go! Thank you.

 

Radhika Vasanth
March 21, 2010

Love the idea of Saffron Vinaigrette, all those ingredient should give a nice flavor to the dish. Thanks for sharing this wonderful recipe with us.

 

I'm excited for Spring and your pasta salads! I love the ones you create, there's always such depth and flavor from a few ingredients. I've made a handful and loved them all. I can't wait to start seeing beautiful, fresh produce in season to make dishes like this!

 

Chef, Interrupted
March 21, 2010

Your description of St Helena in early spring is spot-on. I love the smell of earth and rain, and the new life just around the corner, promised by the mustard blossoms!

And this recipe (especially with the earth-colored orecchiette) is the perfect result of your trip. I can't wait to try it!

 

threemilechild
March 21, 2010

I'm not sure, but I think saffron is a spice that different people are more sensitive to; I know that, for example, I find it a lot stronger smelling than my mother does. I love it, though, and it really is unique.

For those of you who may live in a place where saffron is expensive, try buying it off the internet; especially if you buy a slightly larger container it's more affordable, and in my experience, much better and fresher than the sad little vials they've had sitting on the shelves locally.

 

smilinggreenmom
March 22, 2010

Wow, I would like to try saffron! This looks gorgeous :) I think I will even use our family favorite pasta made with Kamut Khorasan Wheat! It is so good and nutritious and really yummy! Thank you for the recipe!!

 

mel
March 22, 2010

your recipes always grab my attention and palette! just last night i declared it pasta salad season in the house and set out this morning to find recipes but this golden nugget was waiting in my email!!!! THANKYOU!!!!

 

Katrina
March 22, 2010

This salad is so unique and scrumptious looking! Thanks AGAIN for the healthy recipe :)

 

Lovely recipe! Saffron is such a delicate spice. Use too much and it ruins the dish. Use the right amount and it elevates it.
Magda

 

Excellent, just got back from a trip to India, and I have lots of saffron with no definite plans for it.

 

arb
March 22, 2010

I am convinced most whole wheat pasta haters just haven't bought the right one yet. The right one, and I believe Cook's Illustrated recently agreed with me, is Bionaturae brand. I won't eat anything else, and no, I have no ties to this company.

 

The Rowdy Chowgirl
March 22, 2010

I buy my saffron at a little Indian grocery store in a strip mall by my house. It's the kind of store where they have everything from lentils to Indian VHS movies. They sell saffron for about a quarter of what I would pay at the grocery store, and the quality seems the same. Checking out the local Indian grocery might be a good idea for anyone concerned about the price of saffron...

 

Liz
March 22, 2010

My mouth is watering. I'll be making this just as soon as our local asparagus is ready. Saffron + goat cheese = inspiration. :-)

 

Jamie
March 22, 2010

I have never been a big pasta fan, but lately my tastebuds are changing! I am going to try out this recipe as soon as I go grocery shopping this weekend.

 

karen
March 22, 2010

Heidi -

Did you dress both the pasta and the asparagus the day before? I am guessing just the pasta, but am curious, since I made this today (pasta-less) and am wondering how the dressed asparagus will hold up tomorrow.

Thanks! The dressing is delicious... and I happen to have a ton of saffron from a trip abroad.

To others - Trader Joes is a good place to get saffron for less than your average grocery store.

HS: Hi Karen: I dressed it all together, and the day after the asparagus wasn't exactly bright and vibrant, but it was still good in it's own ever-so-slightly pickled way...You could always leave it out until you're ready to serve...it's really a personal preference.

 

DebS
March 22, 2010

I kept looking at the white & yellow things, trying to figure out what they were and finally realized it's the goat cheese tinted with the saffron vinaigrette - neat! That ww orechiette looks spectacular - we used to call it army hats when my kids were little and this kind justifies the name!

 

Nirvana
March 23, 2010

Oh this looks so wonderful!! I've never had toasted wheat orecchiettes but I would loooove to try them

 

stephanie
March 23, 2010

Looks wonderful! For anyone trying to eat whole-grain pasta but unhappy with whole wheat, consider trying brown rice pastas. The good ones are MUCH better than they used to be, and are more similar to "regular" pasta than whole wheat pastas are.

 

Fish Girl
March 23, 2010

Heidi, I just made this dish. I soaked the asparagus in akaline water to keep it crunchy and fresh.

Question: Do you have any recommendations for summer cooking vacations (with healthy food like yours)?

 

Hannah
March 23, 2010

Oh, you had me at saffron. This sounds terrific.

 

Anonymous
March 23, 2010

Excellent as usual!

 

Daniel@thefoodaddicts
March 23, 2010

Wow great use of saffron in a pasta. I happen to have some saffron on hand so I will be trying this soon. Cheers!

 

Cristie
March 23, 2010

This post came just in time. My husband just asked me what saffron was exactly and if I wouldn't please make something with it. Thanks.

 

Katherine
March 24, 2010

Thank you for this recipe! I was thrilled when I saw it because I had all the ingredients in my fridge. I added arugula and cherry tomatoes to make it more of a salad - and there was none left over!! Delish!

 

Forage
March 24, 2010

What a great flavour combination - would never have thought of it! Get so much inspiration from you thanks X Aletta

 

Jenny
March 24, 2010

I was already salivating when I read "saffron," but by the time I got to goat cheese, I was drooling! This is so unattractive- especially at work.

I really love the aesthetics of this dish. I typically use whole wheat or brown rice pasta, but I also find myself subbing in grains like bulgur, kasha, whole wheat cous cous and quinoa in salads like this. I think it gives it an added nutritional boost, but you really have to pay attention to the flavors. Some grains have a very earthy, nutty taste.

 

Mimi
March 24, 2010

You always find such great vintage cookbooks!

 

Jenn (www.j3nn.net)
March 24, 2010

I've never seen pasta that dark before! I'm sure I would love it as I love pasta in all shapes and forms. This dish sounds perfect for the beautiful weather that we're having.

Jenn

 

christie
March 25, 2010

looks amazing.

 

small kitch cara
March 25, 2010

That is such a light and surprising dish. Pasta salads are usually the worst!

 

Chitra
March 25, 2010

this recipe comes at a good time. a good friend of mine just brought me back some saffron from Spain as a gift.

 

This vinaigrette sounds delicious.

 

Dina
March 25, 2010

Hi Heidi, Just made this tonight (and the coconut red lentil soup last night). Completely fantastic. I think next time I make it I'll add more spring green veggies like peas and snap peas to make a heavier on the veg version. Thanks for all the fabulous recipes

 

Peter Armstrong
March 26, 2010

I'm making this tonight. By the way,if you go looking at the Ferry Building for the orrechiette it isn't carried at Far West Fungi, but at the Village Market across the hall and over a couple of shops.

 

susan
March 28, 2010

yum-o-licious! off to the farmers market!

 

Rachel O
March 30, 2010

I made this last night for dinner. I used part penne pasta (whole wheat) and part left-over rotelle pasta. It was awesome! I actually toasted the pine nuts to a darker brown - it really added to the dish and added a little red onion. I appreciated the suggestion of honey and that definitely cut the tartness of the viniagrette. This one is a keeper! Thank you!!

 

Tara
April 10, 2010

I made this the other night - but did a short cut version in which I drained the pasta, threw on the dressing and added the goat cheese and pine nuts and served right away. I liked it better this way than when I had the refrigerated leftovers the next day. I also had small roasted beets (candy striped) on hand, so I quartered those and added them. The beets matched the flavors perfectly and the pink really made the dish beautiful.

HS: ooh - the roasted candy striped beets sound fantastic! Nice addition.

 

Maria
April 15, 2010

This was delicious! I preferred it served warm, though, with hot roasted pine nuts and feta cheese. I'll certainly be making this again.

 

Anna
May 17, 2010

The first time I made this I used supermarket own brand red wine vinegar and it's was a bit horrid, and gave me a sore tummy. Then I bought some better vinegar from my local deli and now it's delicious!