Now that the weather has warmed up (although in Portland, “warmed up” means it’s no longer 32 degrees every night; more like a balmy 39), our garden mint has taken it upon itself to intrude on the personal space of nearly every plant in a 10-foot radius. I understand this is What Mint Does—and don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to have anything green growing in the garden at all at this point—but it does create a dire need to use mint at least a couple times a week, to avoid wasting any of the prunings. I used to make mint chocolate chip ice cream at least once a week for this very purpose, but since our ice cream maker broke (has anyone else had this problem, with the Kitchen Aid bowls? After only two years it sprung a leak right where the dasher fits in, oozing an extremely toxic-looking electric-blue fluid), I’m having to get a little more creative.
Truth be told, this refreshing salad is just as good without mint, so consider it optional, but if you have a surplus of the stuff, it adds a nice something extra. Adapted from a similar recipe in Maria Speck’s “Ancient Grains for Modern Meals.” It makes 2 servings.
• 1 bunch spinach: $1.19
• 1/2 lb. chunky pasta (I used rotelle): 50 cents
• 1/2 small red onion or a handful of small shallots, chopped: 10 cents
• 2 cloves garlic, minced: 2 cents
• 1 1/2 T fresh lemon juice: 20 cents
• 1/2 cup pitted kalamata or black oil-cured olives, chopped: 30 cents
• 1/4 cup plus 2 T chopped mint (optional) (garden): $0
• 3 T olive oil: 18 cents
• Feta, blue cheese, or Parmesan for garnish: 25 cents
TOTAL: $2.74/2 = $1.37/serving
If you’re one of those people who thinks they hate cooked spinach (as I used to be), rest assured the zinginess of the lemon juice, garlic, onions, and olives covers up all that yucky spinach flavor.
Combine the onion or shallot, garlic, and lemon juice with a pinch of salt and pepper. Let it sit so the acidity of the lemon can take the edge off the raw alliums.
Cook the spinach in a pot of boiling water just until wilted. Remove with tongs or a skimmer, set aside to cool.
Add the pasta and a large pinch of salt to the water, return to a boil, and cook until pasta is al dente. Rinse under cold water.
Remove the stems from the spinach, if desired, and chop. Toss in a bowl with the pasta, olives, and 1/4 cup of the mint.
Add the olive oil to the lemon juice/onion mixture and whisk to emulsify. Pour over the salad and toss to combine.
Garnish with cheese (feta or blue would be best, but all I had was Parmesan) and additional mint.