Cold salads made of pasta exploded on the American culinary scene in
the 80's and never left. From a time when every restaurant offered its
version as a side dish to a time when a restaurant that serves it seems
hopelessly retro, pasta salad is still a favorite for picnics, light
lunches and suppers, and potluck meals. Like chili, every cook has a
recipe for pasta salad.
My favorite version is a classic lazy compromise that uses a small
selection of fresh vegetables, quickly blanched in the same water in
which the pasta cooks, but dressed with a good-quality bottled Italian
dressing (although it certainly tastes best with a fresh, homemade
vinaigrette, if you have the energy). I like to use broccoli and
carrots, which don't become mushy (asparagus is also terrific if it's
in season). These vegetables also keep well in the refrigerator, unlike
fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, which become watery and limp if you store
the salad for a few days-or even overnight. It makes a good brown bag
lunch if you have a refrigerator at work.
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound tricolored rotini (or any short,
round shapes such as macaroni or penne)
1 medium bunch broccoli
1 large carrot
1 bottle good-quality Italian salad
1/4 cup green olives (optional)
1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese (optional)
Cook the pasta in a large quantity of
salted boiling water according to package directions. Don't overcook-if
there was ever a time for al dente pasta, it's now.
While the pasta is cooking, trim the
broccoli into bite-size florets. (Ideally, you should peel and slice
the stem, but hey, it's easier to throw it away.) Peel the carrot and
slice it into thin disks, about 1/8 thick.
Just before the end of the pasta's
cooking time, add the carrots and broccoli to the cooking water and
return it to a boil. Let it cook less than 2 minutes until the
vegetables soften just slightly and the pasta is al dente. Dump it into
a colander and run cold water over all. Drain well.
Place the pasta and vegetables in a large
bowl and add dressing. Start with about half the bottle and add more if
desired. Toss lightly to coat. If using olives, slice them and add to
the pasta with the Parmesan cheese. You can eat it now or chill for a
couple of hours. Store it tightly covered in a glass or plastic
container in the refrigerator.