Last Saturday it was The Mister’s birthday, so I decided to throw him a surprise party. I had been thinking of doing this for a while now, but I just couldn’t believe I could pull it off. But I did! Boy was it hard work, and nerve wracking and complicated. But so worth it. He was truly gobsmacked!
As you can imagine, I went a bit overboard with the food. I started preparations on the Wednesday, with the first step being the menu, the shopping list and the schedule. Yes, like the one I mentioned in my post on preparing ahead. Thursday morning was supermarket time, and from then on I spent a significant amount of time in the kitchen, cooking up all sorts of goodies. I was expecting about 20 people, so a buffet style dinner was the best option. For a peek at the menu take a look at the bottom of the post. It might seem a strange assortment of dishes, but I wanted to include some of The Mister’s favourites as well as some slightly more adventurous recipes. One of which is the dish featured in this post, Smoked Salmon, Raw Courgette (Zucchini) and Spearmint Cannelloni Bites.
You are probably wondering what I did for a birthday cake. Well, you will be surprised or maybe even shocked to hear that I let go of that part and allowed The Mister to blow out candles on a store bought cake. Was it a terrible thing to do? Well, time-wise it would have been a struggle to make it myself (it might have even ruined the surprise as he decided to come home early on the day of the party – yeah, I have a couple more gray hairs thanks to that – and he would have more than likely found me icing it). Plus, Greek store bought birthday cakes are delicious (they are patisserie style, creamy affairs with whatever decoration you can imagine – in this case The Mister’s football team emblem). And sometimes, you just have to accept that you can’t do everything. So I’m glad and grateful to The Mister’s sister for taking care of it!
Moving on to our recipe. A couple of weeks ago I saw that this month’s “Swallow’s Recipes for Life” challenge on Bangers & Mash is a recipe using salmon, courgette (zucchini) and pasta. I knew I wanted to participate, as these are favourite ingredients of mine. I had recently made a gorgeous pasta salad with raw zucchini (recipe by Elena’s Cooking) and thought I could use that as a base. It’s so summery and fresh tasting. I did however, want to make it a bit different to your average pasta salad. The original idea was to make a filling and stuff large pasta shells with it; that didn’t work out though as this particular type of pasta seems to have vanished from supermarket shelves in Athens. The only other alternative I could think of was cannelloni tubes. I wanted something that could be eaten as finger food, so it had to be large enough to accommodate a bite size portion of filling. This was the result. It was impressive and pretty, but also a little faffy! So you will find two versions here, one for the bites as shown in the picture and one for a regular pasta salad.
Smoked Salmon, Raw Courgette (Zucchini) and Spearmint Cannelloni Bites
Makes 30 – 40 bites
300g courgettes (zucchini) (approx. 3 medium sized)
salt for helping courgettes to release water
200g smoked salmon, cut into chunks
140g Greek yogurt
20g (about 2 tsp) mayonnaise
80g feta cheese, crumbled into small pieces
2 Tbs spearmint, finely chopped (measured after chopping)
3 Tbs olive oil (plus more for pasta)
1 lemon, zest of
1 Tbs lemon juice
1/4 tsp white pepper (or more to taste)
1 Tbs pine nuts (optional)
1 box (250g) cannelloni or 250g pasta (penne, fusilli or farfalle)
1. Coarsely grate courgettes and place in a colander over a bowl. Sprinkle lightly with salt, shake/flip in the colander and sprinkle again. Set aside for at least 30 minutes so liquid is released.
2. If you are making the pasta salad, boil your pasta according to package instructions. Drain and return to the pan (off the heat) with a bit of olive oil so the shapes don’t stick together. Shake it all up once in a while. For the cannelloni bites boil the tubes till tender but be careful not to overcook. After about 10 minutes taste one to be sure. When ready drain them and return to the pan with olive oil.
3. Put salmon chunks in a big bowl.
4. In a smaller bowl mix yogurt, mayonnaise, feta, spearmint, olive oil, lemon zest and juice, pepper and pine nuts if using. Mix well with a fork, breaking up any feta lumps. Taste and adjust to your liking. Add to the salmon but don’t mix yet.
5. After about 15 minutes you will see that the courgettes have started to “sweat”. When the half hour is up, help them along by squeezing a bit with your hands being careful not to mush them. Add to the bowl with the salmon and yogurt mix.
6. For the pasta salad, add the pasta to the bowl and toss well but carefully. Let it cool completely and refrigerate till a couple of hours before serving.
7. If you are making the cannelloni bites, toss the courgette, salmon and yogurt mixture carefully. Place the bowl with the filling and the pan with the cannelloni near you. Bring out the serving dish and place that near you as well. Take a tube, cut it into three smaller tubes, and peel the first one open with your fingers. (Make sure they have cooled enough, but don’t let them get completely cold as they will stick.) Fill the little tube with a teaspoon or two of filling (place your fingers at the bottom to keep the filling in) and quickly stand it in the serving dish, open sides up and down. Be gentle and fairly quick so the filling doesn’t plop out of the bottom while being transferred. Keep going till your filling is finished. I garnished with tiny bits of dill weed, but they are just as pretty without. Refrigerate till a couple of hours before serving.
– I used between 10 and 15 cannelloni tubes. Unfortunately it is necessary to boil more than you will use so that you can allow for some to split during boiling or filling. I kept the rest, filled with leftover meat sauce from the lasagna, put them on a layer of tomato passata in a baking tin and froze the whole thing. I am hoping that I can pop that in the oven with some béchamel on top and get a good result. I will let you know!
– If you can find the large pasta shells they might be easier and prettier to use.
– There are a lot of different tastes in this dish so you could definitely omit the pine nuts without compromising the result.
– For a more conventional flavour you could substitute the spearmint with dill weed. But the spearmint is so summery and fresh; I think it makes this dish special.
Our party buffet offered the following:
Lasagna (The Mister’s favourite. I promise I will share my recipe soon)
Gorgonzola Gnocchi Bake (will share recipe when I make it again)
Chickpea and Avocado Salad (based on this recipe by Kalyn’s Kitchen, but I used leafy greens and parsley instead of coriander. The chickpeas were cooked on Wednesday night using my slow cooker recipe)
Green Salad with Sundried Tomatoes and Walnuts (which my friend kindly made)
Tabbouleh (bulgur wheat salad made by my Mum)
Potato Puffs (recipe on The Kitchn)
Spanakopita Muffins (recipe coming soon)
Cheese and Rosemary Corn Muffins (recipe coming soon)
Corn and Capsicum Muffins (recipe by My Favourite Pastime)
Cheese Platter with Naxos Island Graviera, smoked Regato and mild Cheddar
Marinated Mini Mozzarellas (based on this recipe by The Kitchn)
German pork sausages, Greek pork sausages and beef sausages (thrown on the BBQ after the party got started – enjoyed as hot dogs by the kids)
Farmhouse Pickle to go with the corn muffins and cheese