Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Anatomy of a Pasta Salad

It's hot. I don't mean just hot. It's HOT. We have a heat index of 108°F today, which is doubly difficult to bear because we just came out of some of the most unbelievably pleasant July weather I can remember (highs in the 70's, lows in the 50's).

Anyway, it's awful to even think about cooking with the oppressive heat. That's where the pasta salad comes in. Yes, you have to boil water, but most pasta shapes take less than 10 minutes to cook. And most pasta salad recipes make a lot of servings, so it'll last at least a couple of meals depending on the size of your family. If the recipe is for only four servings or less, it's easy to double or even triple most times, so if you're looking for a potluck dish, pasta salad is the ticket. It's great if you just need something easy and economical to put on the table next to that rotisserie chicken you bought on the way home from work.

So let's look at what goes into a great pasta salad.

1. Pasta. (You knew I'd say that.) There are a zillion different shapes out there, but the most common ones I use are rotini, bow tie (farfalle),  ziti, and shell macaroni. But you can go with any shape you like as long as it's smallish. Whole-wheat varieties are great, too, as are any of the flavored pastas. The important thing to remember here is: do not rinse your pasta! If you do, you'll wash away all that lovely starch that helps the dressing coat it. If you're strapped for time, you may rinse it in cold water to cool it quicker, but it just won't be the same.

2. Vegetables. Fresh or frozen, vegetables add the color and texture to a pasta salad. Use what you have on hand or what's in season. As long as you like it, it's good, but it's nice to mix up colors and flavors to make it more interesting.

3. Add-ins. These can be anything you like. If you want a main-dish pasta salad, throw in a protein, like chicken or beans. If you just want more texture, add some cheese cubes or crumbles or some sliced pepperoncini or even pickles to the mixture.

4. Dressing. I could go on about dressings all day and not cover the variety that exists. Generally they fall into 2 categories: vinaigrettes and creamy-type dressings. Remember, the dressing is the addition that ties everything together and makes it super delicious, so make sure it's a good one!

I have 4 different pasta salads to share with you that I found in the index cards I received from my mom last week. OK, here is the first of the recipes:

Bow Tie Pasta Salad (8 side-dish servings)

16 oz uncooked bow tie pasta, rotini, ziti or other shaped pasta or your choice
16 oz frozen vegetable mixture (I like broccoli, cauliflower and carrots, sometimes called California medley)
1 cup light Italian dressing. (This can be your favorite store-bought variety to save time or homemade. If you don't like light, use regular.)
1 bunch of green onions, thinly sliced
1 cup pitted black olives, halved (optional) (I really like olives so I add them. Use whatever variety you like.)
Cook pasta and vegetables according to package directions; drain. (Be sure to salt the water for the pasta; it makes a big difference in taste.)

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Cover and chill until ready to serve. Ideally, this is better made a day ahead so it has time to cool down for dinner. I've never tried it, but I imagine a "hot" pasta salad might be good as a quick one-pot meal, maybe sprinkled with some Parmesan cheese.

I'll post another of these pasta salad recipes tomorrow!

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