Friday, August 19, 2011

Pasta Salad with Fresh Veggies

My bigger half thinks of two things when he thinks of pasta salad: macaroni and mayonnaise. I'm not sure if on glorious New England summer days that I really think of the same things. When I think of macaroni and mayonnaise, I think of those dreadful little plastic containers of day old filth that you can pick off the shelf in a chain supermarket. Not very appetizing.
But pasta salad can be so fresh and exciting. Since we have such a bounty of vegetables at the moment in New England, it should be something that tastes very Mediterranean. Lots of fresh, crisp vegetables, and of course, you'll need a pasta that can hold onto the flavors, preferably something in tube form, so ultimately maybe little bits can get trapped into the tiny cavern, releasing their flavor at your appropriate bite. So, since I had a fridge full of goodies, I set to making a side dish that was both healthy and intensely flavorful, as opposed to his heavy version. 
Your ingredients will include the following: about a third of a box of elbow pasta... bigger than elbow macaroni. Fusilli would also work very well. For vegetables, I went for a half of a ripe, red tomato, chopped. Then there were two big cloves of garlic. A green banana pepper works well for freshness, as does a half of a flying saucer squash. I also like to work with about three to four extra crisp romaine heart leaves, and a chiffonade of about seven or eight pieces of fresh basil. 
There are only a few little steps to creating the pasta salad. First, boil your pasta in a large pot of salted oil. My elbow pasta only took about eight minutes before it was perfectly tender. Based upon the amount of pasta you have, you'll want to gauge how much you add as far as vegetables are concerned. I went ahead and diced the half of the tomato and mixed that in. I also had about thirteen big green and black olives, so I pitted and diced those, and threw them into the bowl.
Now to begin layering flavors. I thought that instead of simply dicing the raw pepper, I may get a slightly smoky, perhaps more robust zingy flavor from charring the skin of the banana pepper over the stove. The pepper charred easily over the high heat of an open flame. The skin slipped off very easily. I removed the seeds, and diced up the tender flesh of the fresh pepper, adding that to the pasta salad. 

But what to do with the squash and garlic. Technically you can also add those elements raw, but I like the sweetness of cooked squash and the smell of sauteed garlic that will fill my kitchen. So I diced the garlic and roughly chopped half of the flying saucer squash, throwing both of those into a small frying pan with a bit of cooking spray and a dash of salt. Four minutes later, still fairly crispy, I threw both elements into the pasta salad. 
You are almost finished. Every salad on the planet can be improved with a little olive oil. A splash goes into the bowl. Next a splash of balsamic vinegar, since we are erring on the side of Mediterranean flavors. Finally, I had some feta cheese in my fridge, and took a bit of joy in adding about two thick slices to the salad, crumbling each little bit evenly so that every bite would get a little bit of the salty cheese. 
Give everything a stir, a dash of salt and pepper, and at the last moment, to preserve a bit of the crispness, mix in the chiffonade of the basil and the similarly sliced cuts of crispy lettuce. You're done.
What you've created is a salty, cheesy, savory, and yet, very light and delicious pasta salad. It has all the elements of the peak of summer, particularly prominent in each piece of diced tomato, and then of course, that lovely charred pepper which we added in. I'm also quite a fan of anything that combines the flavors of tomatoes, basil, and olives. This is a perfect pasta salad to bring to any barbecue or a picnic in the park. 

1/3 box of elbow pasta (bigger than macaroni)
1/2 tomato
1/2 flying saucer squash
13 big olives, pitted, diced
2 big garlic cloves, diced
1 big banana pepper, charred, and roughly chopped
8 fresh basil leaves
3 crunchy interior leaves of romaine lettuce
To taste: salt, pepper, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, feta cheese

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