Pasta salad: a picnic classic. If you’ve spent any time on A Pear to Remember, you know I like to keep things simple and packed with flavor. Though it veers from The American Classic, I think you will love this pasta salad. I made it up about a year ago and it’s been a hit among pasta lovers. It’s easily adaptable to your ingredient availabilities and preferences. Here are the basics:
- Pasta (fun shape of your choosing)
- Olive Oil
- Kosher salt or sea salt (not table salt) and pepper
- Assorted vegetables (sautéed, grilled, jarred)
- Cheese (parmesan or cubes of fresh mozzarella)
- Optional: lemon zest, fresh herbs (chives! basil!)
I love any pasta dish with these ingredients, but they really make a sensational pasta salad. Deliciously chilled for summertime. Pasta salad should be vibrant in flavor and appearance—bold colors and shapes. My favorite pasta shapes for pasta salad are Cavatappi (corkscrews) or Campanelle (little bells).
Prepare your veggies (and chop the pepperoni if you must). I chopped up zucchini and eggplant (and often add red onion), tossed with olive oil and ample coarse salt. Flavoring the veggies before grilling provides exceptional additions for your salad.
I also had some lovely fresh corn. Grilled corn is exceptional when the kernels are charred, but I’ve found the corn burns before cooking through when placed bare on the grill. This time around, I experimented by removing the outer husks until just one or two layers remained. Leaving the ears on the grill while tending to the chopped veggies (not cut too small) allowed the corn to steam through.
After rotating the corn for about five minutes, I peeled the remaining husks from the ears with my grilling tongs and allowed the kernels to char slightly (yum). You could brush with flavored olive oil or butter here to aid in flavor and browning, but it’s still fantastic on its own.
After cutting the kernels from the cob and combining with the other grilled vegetables, I seasoned these before adding to the pasta–coarse salt and pepper as needed. It’s easier to intensify the flavors at this point before they mingle with your remaining ingredients.
Cook your pasta in salted water until al dente. Gooey, overcooked pasta reminds me of grocery-store pasta salad. Yuck. Rinse the pasta slightly and drain well. Set aside in your serving bowl with just enough olive oil to keep the pasta from sticking. Combining the pasta and grilled (or sautéed) veggies while everything is still warm allow the flavors to marry and absorb into the pasta before refrigeration.
You can add whatever amount and variety of vegetables you wish, but jarred veggies simplify the task of beautifying your pasta salad. I added some of my homemade slow-roasted tomatoes, but jarred sun-dried tomatoes do the same trick. I also love jarred roasted red peppers, chopped finely to toss into pasta. They are so mild yet sweet, a great dish-booster even to eaters who might otherwise think they don’t enjoy bell peppers. I’ve met such people.
Remember you could also add artichokes, olives, whatever you fancy.
Fresh shredded parmesan is often just enough cheese for this simple salad. However, if it’s a special occasion (like this particular pasta celebration) and you’re in the mood for something special, hunt down some super-fresh mozzarella.
As I mentioned earlier, combining your salad ingredients while the pasta and veggies are warm really allows the flavors to mingle. But how to do this without melting the mozzarella?
Cut the mozzarella into cubes and place on a dish or small baking sheet (wax or parchment paper beneath). Refrigerate for an hour or just pop in the freezer for 20 minutes (I adore efficiency). Now toss with your salad, no fears of melting!
Once you’ve combined your ingredients, it’s very important to taste for flavor. Even with vibrant vegetables, the noodles may turn out surprisingly bland. This is where I add (as I did this time around) lemon zest, salt and pepper, additional olive oil, fresh basil, and even a slight splash of balsamic.
I discussed in an earlier posting about my dislike of most dried herbs—and chilled pasta salad is not the time to raid your spice cabinet for flavor. Fresh ingredients are best. (I do recommend fresh basil if you can find some, it’s certainly an attractive addition to white pasta). However, I did mention my appreciation for McCormick’s Spiced Sea Salt blend for a quick pasta boost. It has coarse sea salt, dried lemon peel, garlic, red pepper, and oregano—great for a vegetable combination like this. Be sure to toss well, as all the good stuff sinks to the bottom! You can really get creative, simplifying this with three ingredients or amplifying with a variety of seasonal veggies and herbs.
If you read a recipe for American pasta salad, you’ll need peas, celery, dry Italian-style salad dressing mix, mayo, sour cream, and milk. If that’s your thing, fantastic. But Lindsey’s little Mediterranean-inspired medley—beyond sounding more temperature stable—is light and bright. Not to mention all of those fresh, nutritious ingredients.