With summer (finally!) arriving, so arrives the season of cook-outs and picnics and gatherings of friends and families in the great out-of-doors. Hamburgers always taste better grilled – hot dogs look more appealing with a little char and the skins bursting open – sides like baked beans, macaroni and/or potato salad are the accoutrements that complete the meal.
When invited to such an event, there is a great probability that, when asked what I can bring, I will be asked for pasta salad. And my recipe is so easy!
Every bowl of pasta salad needs two things – a pasta and a dressing. For this, I tend to use the tri-colored rotini pasta for two reasons: the colors add to the visual pleasantness of the salad and rotini are easy to stab with a fork when eating it. For dressing, my tried and true is a bottle of ‘original’ Italian dressing.
It’s important, for this salad, to monitor your pasta when it’s cooking. If you’re going to err, err on the side of slightly undercooked as opposed to slightly overcooked. Mushy pasta is not an enjoyable texture. Slightly less than al dente pasta does have the chance to envelope and embrace some of the flavor of the salad dressing, making it more palatable.
From there, you get the be the star of the show! The other items you add are up to your own personal taste or perhaps, what you have on hand! My friends prefer meat pasta salad – ham, turkey, pepperoni and the like. If I have lunchmeat on hand, I just cut it up and spread it throughout. If not, I’ll ask at the deli of the grocery store to slice me about a 1/4th inch slab of the lunchmeats I want to include, which I then dice. Sometimes I’ve used chicken instead of turkey, I’ve added roast beef when I had extra lunchmeat. (Although I never have “leftover” steak, I imagine it would taste exceptional as an addition!) Next come cheeses – stick with the shredded cheeses and again, use what you like or have on hand. I always have at least two flavors in the fridge. Beyond the meats and cheeses, the only other thing I add is a can of drained black olives. I add these because I like them – and those who don’t can pick around them or give them to me!
When it comes to making a vegetable pasta salad, anything you would put on a green lettuce salad can be put in a pasta salad! Celery and carrots are obvious. Pieces of raw broccoli and/or cauliflower provide an additional crunch and color. Cherry tomatoes are the perfect size for this pasta salad. Again, think of any vegetable you’d eat raw – even green peppers – and add it.
Once you’ve got your ingredients all mixed together as best you can (I assemble it in two layers) in a plastic bowl with a tight lid, turn it upside down and put it in the fridge. When you’re in the fridge for another reason, take the time to turn the bowl upright, then upside down, then upright again. Don’t be afraid to give it a shake along the way. This gives the dressing a chance to meet at least part of the surface of every ingredient in the bowl.
One of the best things, besides how easy pasta salad is to make, is that it gets better if it sits in the fridge for a day or two before it’s served. This gives the dressing a chance to become absorbed and the flavors to become even brighter as they marinate in the dressing’s spice. The downfall to making it ahead of time is that you’ll be tempted to sample it – and once you do, you’ll be sampling a bite or two every time you see it in the fridge!
I’ve learned to always make a little too much to fit into my biggest plastic bowl. A separate container with the extra is where I can sample from. It also assures me that I’ll have more than just what I get at the gathering – because my friends will want to keep the extras!
Try this easy recipe and be a hit at your next gathering!