A Fabulous Pasta Potluck Salad—French Style!

Turkey Salad Veronique. A bit hit at a recent potluck.

I recently attended a great meeting of our local Dining for Women chapter (read about this marvelous—and enjoyable!—charitable program, here). As usual at these events, the food was great, especially now, when there’s a wonderful mix of colorful fresh produce available at its in-season best.

Of course, having written a French cookbook, people expect me to bring something French, so I brought one of my favorite summer salads. At first glance, it looks like a somewhat standard chicken-grape salad, but it’s the French touches that make all the difference. And, it’s made from turkey, not chicken.

Turkey? Do the French eat turkey? Yes. I rarely ever see dinde (turkey) on restaurant menus, I see it often in French cookbooks and in supermarkets. In fact, this past trip, I saw it many in the meat aisle: you could buy little scallopini of the breast so you could make it milanese style; I saw turkey tenderloins (which is what this calls for), and I also saw pre-roasted turkey breast, ready to cut and use in salads.

Here’s the recipe, straight from The Bonne Femme Cookbook. Enjoy!

Salad ingredients ready to be tossed

Turkey Salad Véronique

In classic French cooking, véronique is the fancy way of saying “with grapes.” But it’s the little details that separate this from the usual poultry and grape salad. The brine makes the meat exceptionally tender and juicy, roasting the turkey brings out extra flavor, and the very small sprinkling of hazelnuts and light tarragon flavor add delicately French touches. I prefer light mayonnaise here—it drapes well over the salad ingredients and lets the subtle flavors come through.

Makes 4 main-dish servings (I doubled this for the potluck)

1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 quart cold water
1 pound turkey tenderloin(s)
Freshly ground white pepper to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup dry rotini or fusilli pasta
1 cup whole seedless red grapes, halved
1 celery rib, thinly sliced
1/2 small red onion, minced (about 1/4 cup)
3 tablespoons chopped toasted hazelnuts
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon light mayonnaise
1 teaspoon snipped fresh tarragon*

1. For the brine, dissolve the salt and sugar in the water. Place the turkey in a large, heavy-duty zipper-top plastic bag. Add the brine and seal the bag. Refrigerate the turkey in the brine for 2 to 3 hours.

2. Preheat the oven to 425°F.

3. Remove the turkey from the brine and pat it dry with paper towels. Season with white pepper; brush all over with olive oil. Place the turkey in a shallow baking dish and roast, uncovered, until the internal temperature registers 170°F on an instant-read thermometer, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool for about 20 minutes. Using two forks, shred the turkey into bite-size pieces.

4. Meanwhile, cook the rotini according to the package directions; rinse under cool running water and drain well.

5. Combine the turkey and rotini with the grapes, celery, onion, hazelnuts, mayonnaise, and tarragon in a large bowl. Toss to combine and coat everything with the mayonnaise.Refrigerate the salad for 1 to 2 hours before serving to meld the flavors.

* I totally cheated here. The market was out of fresh tarragon, so I used 1/4 cup snipped fresh parsley and 2 teaspoons dried tarragon, crushed–that was for 8 servings. Halve that if making four servings. The flavor of the tarragon still came through, and the parsley added that fresh-green angle you want from fresh herbs. 

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