Thursday, May 31, 2012

Pasta Salad

Tomorrow is the first day of June.  I find this hard to believe.  I'm pretty sure it was just yesterday that I was posting about soup and how much I love soup and how one winter we ate soup almost every day for a month because it's so wonderful and amazing and delicious.

Now Memorial Day is over and we've hit 90-plus degrees and I want nothing to do with soup.  (Yeah, so I'm fickle.  You know you don't want soup either.)  Now I want salads.  Giant pasta salads.  Salads bursting with fresh vegetables out of the garden and tasty stuff like couscous and quinoa and lentils and barley.  When it got too hot to cook (yes, that does happen in Michigan), my mom always used to make a giant vat of pasta salad, and we'd eat it on the pool deck with fruit and popsicles and other munchies that didn't require the use of an oven.  You don't need a pool to enjoy pasta salad, though.  In fact, it doesn't even have to be summer yet.  I've made two big batches already, and they were just as delicious as I remember.  And much better than soup.

This recipe is great because you can change it based on what's in your refrigerator or garden.  I've listed the typical ingredients that I use, but feel free to add whatever you like.  In addition to veggies like cucumber or avocado, consider adding chopped pepperoni or grated mozzarella.  Be creative!  For the dressing, I usually use regular or "zesty" Italian dressing from a bottle.  Don't use any of the creamy versions.  I've also tried using Good Seasons Italian dressing from a packet; it worked, but the flavor wasn't quite as strong as I like.  Set any remaining dressing out on the table so people can add a bit more if they like.

Another trick I use is adding the broccoli and carrots to the boiling pasta water for a few seconds.  Blanching these crunchier vegetables makes them a little less, well, crunchy.  Just be sure not to overcook them; the last thing you want is a bunch of soggy, nasty broccoli mixed into your beautiful salad.  About 60 seconds for the carrots and 30 seconds for the broccoli is plenty.

Pasta Salad
Time:  30 minutes
Serves:  8+

1 package (12-16 oz.) tri-color rotini (my favorite) or another bite-size pasta (like farfalle or small shells)
3-4 carrots, peeled and diced
1 medium head broccoli, cut into bite-size pieces (I peel the "trunk" and cut it up too)
1-2 bell peppers, diced (any color)
1 large tomato, diced (or 3/4 to 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved)
1/2 cup black olives (about half a can)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 cup (8 oz.) bottled Italian dressing, plus more to taste

Boil pasta in a large pot according to package directions.  One minute before pasta is done, add carrots to pot.  Thirty seconds later, add broccoli.  (Vegetables should be just barely tender-crisp and very bright in color--don't overcook!)  Drain immediately; toss with a few ice cubes to cool.  Add remaining ingredients;  refrigerate until chilled.  Toss before serving.

Tip:  If making salad in advance, add tomatoes just before serving, as they tend to lose their freshness more quickly than the other vegetables.

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