Salad days: Mark Hix serves up summer sensations

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Forget the dismal cold-pasta combos you see in your average sandwich bar... Mark Hix creates summery, sophisticated alternatives.

Pasta salads are commonly found in the chilled cabinet of your local sandwich bar – and they invariably consist of swirly pasta, tuna, tinned sweetcorn, chopped pepper and mayonnaise. When I used to run a restaurant and wine bar in the City of London, the notorious pasta salad was a popular staple and used to fly out of the door. But let's leave all that behind us – there are plenty of great innovative cold pasta dishes you can serve during the spring and summer without feeling that you are serving boring wine bar food. You can have lots of fun creating exciting pasta starters or picnic or buffet dishes. The secret is also not to serve these dishes fridge-cold, but at room temperature, so you take advantage of all the flavours.

Cuttlefish and orzo salad

Serves 4

I'm still campaigning to use more cuttlefish; we land loads of the stuff on our coasts, most of which gets shipped off to countries like Spain and France. It's most certainly on a par with squid and you can even crumb and deep-fry it.

400g cleaned weight of cuttlefish
1-2tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
100g orzo
A handful of flat parsley leaves shredded and mixed with any celery leaves you have to hand (see below)

For the sauce

1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
4-5 sticks of celery, any stringy stalks peeled, cut into rough 1cm pieces (reserve the leaves for garnish)
A couple of sprigs of oregano or marjoram, chopped
4-5tbsp olive oil
1 x 225g can of chopped tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1tbsp caster sugar
75ml white wine vinegar
40g salted capers, rinsed in cold water
12 large green olives, stoned and quartered

Separate the tentacles from the cuttlefish and halve them lengthways if they are large, then cut the body into rough 2-3cm-thin strips. Heat a little of the olive oil in a frying pan, season the cuttlefish and fry on a high heat for a few minutes, giving them a light colour, then put to one side.

Heat the olive oil in a pan and gently cook the onion, celery and marjoram for 2-3 minutes, until soft. Add the tomatoes and tentacles, season and simmer for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the sugar and vinegar in a saucepan for a minute, then add to the tomato mixture. Add the cuttlefish with about 150ml water, cover the pan with a lid and simmer very gently for about 20-30 minutes, topping up with water if it's getting dry, or until the cuttlefish is tender. Add the capers and olives, simmer for another 10 minutes, then remove from the heat and leave to cool. The sauce shouldn't be too wet but just liquidy enough to coat the pasta.

Meanwhile, cook the orzo in boiling salted water, according to the manufacturer's instructions, then drain and refresh briefly under a cold tap. Mix the orzo with the cuttlefish sauce and re-season if necessary; serve at room temperature scattered with the shredded celery and parsley leaves.

Egg noodles with shiitake, Chinese chives and ginger

Serves 4

This is great to serve as a starter, vegetarian main or even as a lunchtime snack in a tiffin box. You can add other variations to this, such as bean sprouts, prawns, shredded chicken, etc. I've used the fresh egg noodles here which are available in good Chinese supermarkets.

300-400g fresh egg noodles or other Asian noodles
120-150g fresh shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 large red chilli, thinly sliced
1tbsp sesame oil
80-100g Chinese garlic chives, shredded on the angle
A 30-40g piece of fresh ginger, scraped and finely shredded
A handful of coriander

For the dressing

1tbsp soy sauce
1tbsp rice vinegar
1tbsp sweet chilli sauce
2tbsp sesame oil
2tbsp vegetable or corn oil

Heat the tablespoon of sesame oil in a frying pan and gently cook the shiitake and chilli on a low heat for a couple of minutes, stirring regularly, then add the Chinese chives and ginger and cook for another 30 seconds and remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, cook the fresh egg noodles in boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes until tender, then drain in a colander and refresh under the cold tap and leave to drain. Whisk all of the ingredients together for the dressing and toss into the noodles with the shiitake and chives, ginger and chilli. Chop half of the coriander, stalks and all, and stir into the noodles and season to taste; then arrange on a serving dish and scatter with the rest of the coriander.

Ink pasta with courgettes and crab

Serves 4

Freshly-picked crab meat is a real treat and what's more, you can make a good crab stock and dressing and/or a soup from the shell. Pasta that is flavoured and coloured with cuttlefish or squid ink is pretty easy to find these days, or you can use any other long or short pasta for this dish – it's up to you. I haven't specified a type of pasta here as different shops stock different types.

You will have extra stock left over to use another time, and any leftover brown meat from the crab you can just mix with mayonnaise and spread on buttered toast.

150-200g ink pasta
1 or 2 crabs weighing about a kilo, cooked, white meat removed
Greek basil, to garnish
The juice of half a lemon
1tsp Dijon mustard
2tbsp vegetable or corn oil
2tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium courgette

For the crab stock

2tbsp vegetable oil
The shells from the crab, broken into piece
1 medium onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 small fennel bulb, roughly chopped
6 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
10 black peppercorns
A few sprigs of thyme
A good pinch of saffron
2tbsp tomato purée
2 litres fish stock

First make the stock: heat the vegetable oil in a heavy-based saucepan and fry the crab shells, onion and fennel on a low heat for about 4-5 minutes, stirring every so often. Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to the boil and simmer for an hour, skimming every so often. Strain the stock through a fine-meshed sieve, then transfer half of the stock to a saucepan and simmer until it has reduced down to about a tablespoon or so, then transfer to a bowl. You can freeze the rest for another time or make it into a soup.

Whisk the reduced stock with the lemon juice, mustard and oils and season to taste. Cut the courgette into 4cm lengths then cut into ¼cm slices and shred them into matchstick-like pieces.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to the manufacturer's cooking instructions, and then drain and leave to cool.

To serve, toss the pasta with the courgettes and dressing and arrange in serving bowls or one large bowl. Scatter with the white crab meat and Greek basil.

Fettuccine with Mottra caviar and crème fraîche

Serves 4

This is a very sophisticated way to serve pasta. I'm still pushing the case for using sustainable Mottra caviar from Latvia (, as wild sturgeon are becoming rarer and should be left alone. With something as delicate as caviar, it's important to use a delicate and fine pasta so that it doesn't get in the way of the luxurious flavours and textures.

80-100g very fine, good-quality fettuccine or similar sized pasta
1tbsp finely chopped chives
1tbsp olive oil
2tbsp crème fraîche
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
30g or more of Mottra caviar

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to the manufacturer's cooking instructions, then drain in a colander; transfer to a bowl and while it's still warm, add the olive oil and chives and season. Stir as it's cooling, then stir in the crème fraîche and re-season if necessary.

To serve, spoon the pasta on to serving plates and spoon the caviar on top.

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