Monday, January 27, 2014

Simple pasta salad

My mom's birthday was this weekend, and we all went up to my parents' house for a potluck. I was responsible for the side, and since the main dish was pizza, I decided to make pasta salad. I started looking at recipes, but I had to get to the store and didn't have time to narrow it down. I decided I'd just wing it, and I think it turned out pretty well. Pictures are pretty much nonexistent since I was almost done before I realized I could be documenting it.

I grew up with mayonnaise-based salads--I'm pretty sure I was well into adulthood before I ever tasted a vinaigrette--and a lot of times that's still what my tastes run toward. But having a pastassalad where the dressing is almost all mayonnaise usually makes the salad too heavy and kind of oddly textured after it's been in the fridge overnight. I've seen salad recipes where you just dump a bottle of dressing into noodles, but while this isn't too far off of that, that never gave me the results I wanted, either. So this is what I came up with.

Here's what you'll need:

  • 2 boxes tricolor rotini. I like to use name brand for this since the color is stronger than with generic.
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup Creamy Italian salad dressing
  • 1/2 cup Zesty Italian salad dressing
  • Another 1/2 cup of either Creamy Italian or Zesty Italian dressing, depending on if you want the salad dressing to be more creamy or more like a vinaigrette. I used Kraft because that's what I had, but use whatever you like best.
  • 24 pepperoni slices, cut into quarters
  • 2 heads broccoli, cut up. We prefer the florets and not the stems, so if you use all the pieces you might want to just use one head.
  • 1/4 red onion, cut into thin slices and diced. If your onion is too strong, soak it in water for half an hour or so, up to overnight, then drain and use as usual.
  • 1 tsp Mrs. Dash
  • 1 T. celery flakes
  • Other mix-in ideas: black olives, artichoke hearts, banana peppers, grape tomatoes, chicken, shrimp, cubes of cheese, or cubes of salami

Boil a large pot of water. When it's boiling, generously salt the water, wait for it to come back to a boil, then stir in your pasta. Cook six to seven minutes; you want it to be well on the al dente side.

Drain pasta, reserving one cup of pasta water. Rinse your pasta with cold water, then put it in a large bowl in the fridge to keep it cold if you need some time to finish prepping the rest of your ingredients. I have no idea if this is based in science, but if I'm making a cold pasta salad I don't like to dress the pasta when it's still hot. I think it soaks up too much of the dressing. I want it to soak up some of the dressing, but I don't want it to soak up all of the dressing. So if the cold water rinse isn't enough to get it down to warmish/lukewarm, I put the pasta in the fridge for half an hour or so. If any of your mix-ins will be warm from cooking (meat, for example) let them cool down a bit, too. Cool meat in the fridge, though.

I roasted the broccoli because we like that better than raw, but you can choose which way you want it. To roast broccoli, I toss it with enough vegetable oil to barely coat the broccoli (in this case, about 1/4 cup for two heads), then sprinkle on some kosher salt, garlic powder, and pepper. Toss it to make sure the seasonings are distributed, spread it on a foil-lined cookie sheet, and bake at 425 for about 8 minutes. If you were cooking this to eat as a side dish, you'd roast it about 15 minutes, but I wanted to keep it a bit crunchy. Once the broccoli comes out of the oven, spread it on a plate and put it in the fridge to cool for a little while.

In a small bowl, mix together your spices, mayonnaise, both dressings, and about 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water. I use a whisk to get everything nice and smooth.

Add your onion, pepperoni, and broccoli to your bowl of pasta and mix gently. Pour the dressing over and mix gently. This is mine after the sauce but before the broccoli (it was still cooling).

At this point I like to refrigerate the salad overnight to let the flavors meld. I haven't added the extra dressing yet because I don't want the pasta to soak that all up. If you're serving this right away, go ahead and toss that in there.

The next day, an hour or so before we needed to leave, I added the extra dressing. I decided on Creamy Italian. You're done!

This serves about twelve as a side, and six to eight as a main course.

1 comment:

  1. I love pasta salad! I'm always looking for a good recipe and a reason to make it too since no one in my house will eat it!