Monday, July 25, 2011

Too hot to cook; therefore Pasta Salad

With the majority of the U.S. suffering under a severe heat wave, it is just too hot to cook. But, we still have to eat and we crave something light and refreshing.

Enter pasta salads. Pasta salads are notorious for being the flavorless, wilted dishes at picnics and potlucks.  Its reputation has not been helped by the scads of boxed mixes on the grocery shelves (please don't buy those!!) or by those who like to stir in mayonnaise-based dressings (does anyone really love macaroni salad? Anyone? Anyone?) Some like the convenience of a bottled salad dressing in a pasta salad. But don't fall into that temptation. A homemade dressing is easy to make and will really shine here. A pasta salad done right is easy, nutritious and best of all won't heat up the kitchen.

This is one of my favorites, which is a very basic recipe. You can play with it, adding different meats and vegetables according to your whim. Really like grape tomatoes? Add another handful. Or substitute sun-dried tomatoes for fresh.  Love broccoli? Blanch some and toss it in. How about olives or roasted red peppers? Delish! Or add little mozzerella balls or crumbled feta into the salad. If you like, you can leave out the meat and serve the salad as a side with grilled meat.

If you make it the night before or early in the morning, not only will the flavors improve, but you will have a cool kitchen and a perfect summer dinner.

Serve with a rustic loaf of bread and iced tea.

Stay cool, hydrated, sunscreened and safe, my friends!

Basic Pasta Salad
makes about 4-5 meal-sized servings

1/3 cup first cold pressed olive oil
3 tablespoons good quality red wine vinegar - I like the Alessi* brand, which I buy at Whole Foods
1 teaspoon salt
3 drops hot pepper sauce
1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 pound uncooked pasta (I love farfalle)
1/2 pound deli roast beef, thinly sliced (as for sandwiches) and cut into bite-sized strips
1 cup chopped celery
8 oz grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1 cucumber, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons basil leaves, chopped

Combine all dressing ingredients in a jar with tight-fitting lid and shake. Set aside.

Cook pasta according to package directions for al dente and drain. Mix in some of the dressing, pour into a large bowl  and let pasta cool, stirring occasionally.

When pasta has cooled, combine with remaining ingredients. Pour dressing overall and toss.

Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight to blend flavors.

*not a paid advertisement--I just really prefer this brand for both red and white wine vinegars

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