This is the only recipe you’re likely to find on these pages. It’s a dish that, for me, is steeped in memories. For day-to-day simple meals I believe that the time spent preparing the food should be less than the time spent eating it. This dish fulfils that criterion. I learnt it at university. It requires one saucepan and one bowl. There are only 4 ingredients, and it’s cheap, so it’s a perfect student dish.
The ingredients are pasta shells, avocado, cucumber and Emmental cheese. (If there’s anything there that you can’t eat, my apologies, and maybe you’d better stop here.) Otherwise, boil the pasta and, while it’s cooking, cut the other 3 ingredients into cubes or chunks small enough to fit into a pasta shell. That’s pretty much it, but more detailed instructions follow.
These quantities should feed 4 hungry people.
500g of pasta shells (conchiglie)
1 large cucumber
200-250g pack of Emmental cheese
2 ripe avocados
Boil your big pan of water and cook the pasta shells (11-13 minutes cooking time). While the pasta is cooking prepare the other 3 ingredients.
Peel the cucumber and dice it: cut the cucumber into 1cm slices (just under 0.5”) and cut each slice into 6 pieces (they might remind you of those Trivial Pursuit “slices of pie” when done).
Cut the Emmental cheese into cubes, ideally just under 1cm in size (0.4”). In addition thin-slice some cubes, around 10% of the cheese (20-25g or so): these thin slices should be around 1cm square (0.4”), like the cubes, but around 1mm thick (1/24th of an inch).
Peel and quarter the avocados and slice into pieces between 6mm and 1cm (around ¼” to just under ½”), as close to cube-shaped as the shape of the avocado allows.
Place the cucumber and avocado pieces into a serving bowl and mix them together.
Spread the cubes and thin slices of cheese on top of the cucumber and avocado pieces.
Drain and pour the cooked pasta into the bowl. Leave for a minute (to melt the thin-sliced cheese and soften the cubes of cheese).
Mix the four ingredients thoroughly.
And that’s it. No sauces, no garnish, no extra flavours (except salt to taste): enjoy how the four simple flavours combine. See how often you can spear the perfect forkful: a chunk of avocado, a cuboid of cheese, a piece of cucumber, 2 or 3 pasta shells.
The only modification that this dish has gone through in 30 years is thin-slicing a small percentage of the cheese. Previously it was all cut into cubes. All other experiments have failed: wheat-free pasta doesn’t do the job, other types of cheese don’t work and there are no additional flavours required.
This pasta salad evokes a gestalt of personal memories going back through 30 years and more: student days, family meals in my 20s, non-family meals in my 30s, and now that we have young children it’s back to being a family meal. Preparing it can be a collaborative process: you can peel, slice and dice together, at the kitchen table, and talk at the same time.
For a while it was called “Wednesday night dinner” (and Friday night was fish & chips night) but now it’s back to being “Friday night dinner”. It’s the main reason that I won’t be giving up wheat for a while.