Falsetti: Plan for a perfect pasta salad
A friend — Italian-American, of course — once told me she thought cold pasta was an abomination. Having tasted my share of awful pasta salads, I could definitely see her point of view.
On the other hand, many a time I have pulled out pasta left over from the night before and eaten it straight from the fridge. I think pasta salad is a perfectly acceptable summertime dish, but it is not something to be thrown together willy-nilly.
The first thing to keep in mind is not to overcook the pasta. No one wants cold, mushy pasta. Using the package directions, cook the pasta to the al dente stage, drain and then toss immediately with the dressing. There is no need to rinse the pasta in cold water. The hot pasta will soak up the dressing and be fully flavored.
Then there is the question of the dressing. Bottled dressings are packed with artificial flavors and colors as well as sodium-rich preservatives. Making your own is simple — it’s just a matter of combining a few ingredients in a bowl and whisking them together.
Although the pasta and dressing can be made ahead of time and refrigerated, any vegetables should be added just before serving. If left to sit too long in the salad, they lose their crispness and color. The same caveat is true for adding fresh herbs.
The recipe below is highly adaptable. Feel free to vary the vegetables and cheese according to your preferences. If adding vegetables such as broccoli or green beans, blanch first, drain and rinse in cold water to revive their bright green color. I didn’t have any on hand, but I think sliced black olives would make a nice addition.
A Simple Pasta Salad
For the dressing
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
2/3 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon honey
For the salad
1 pound short pasta (rotini, fusilli or penne)
4 mini cucumbers, cut into bite-size pieces
8 ounces feta cheese, cubed into bite-size pieces
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
1/4 cup shaved Parmesan cheese
In a large bowl, combine the dressing ingredients and whisk together until creamy.
Cook the pasta in generously salted water until al dente. Drain. While still warm, toss with the dressing. Chill until ready to eat. Just before serving, add the vegetables, cheese and basil, then toss. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve topped with the shaved Parmesan.
— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at email@example.com.