Summer Pasta Salad

I like a good pasta salad any time of year, but especially during the summer when dishes that are cool and crisp seem to meld well with the hot summer weather. I used to just get the boxed pasta salad mixes but as I become pickier about what I put in my mouth I tend to shy away from prepackaged foods with ingredients that I cannot pronounce. Plus chopping and dicing is very therapeutic for me and the end result is always better than something that came out of a box.

The pasta salad recipe I’m sharing today came from, where else, Pinterest and a website called barefeetinthekitchen.com. A colleague of mine pinned it and when I saw the pin it intrigued me. I decided to make it with a couple of changes from the original recipe (mostly based on what I already had in the house) and I’ll share my adaptation below.

Ingredients

Ingredients

RECIPE RATING: A – simple to make, very flavorful and adaptable. The only thing preventing me from giving it an A+ is I didn’t think the proportion of broccoli to pasta was substantive enough. The original recipe called for 8 ounces of pasta and a cup of tiny broccoli florets. I added about a 1/2 cup more of broccoli florets because as I was eyeballing it I thought there wasn’t enough. I would have liked an even better ratio in the salad than that, so I am recommending adding two cups of tiny broccoli florets.

LESSON LEARNED 1 – ANY PASTA WILL DO:  The original recipe called for “salad macaroni”. The pasta pictured on the website looked like ditalini. I used a pasta called “radiatore” which, as you can see in the pictures, has wavy edges. I thought this pasta would hold the dressing better and it also creates an interesting look. So, knowing that we eat with our eyes even before we even put anything in our mouths, I opted for the radiatore. But in reality any small shaped pasta will do like small shells or even elbow macaroni.

LESSON LEARNED 2 – PARBOILING THE BROCCOLI FLORETS: This was a great tip in the recipe. You have to cook the florets slightly or else they will be too hard when in actuality you want them to be crisp tender. The original recipe called for putting the florets in with the pasta for the last 30 seconds of cooking time and then draining and rinsing both with cold water. I kept the florets in for 45 seconds and I think they came out perfectly. It is important to rinse them immediately in cold water to stop the cooking process. Let the cold water run for at least a minute and shake the colander every once in a while to make the cold water is reaching all of the pasta and the broccoli.

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LESSON LEARNED 3 – USE WHAT YOU HAVE AT HOME: The original recipe called for black olives. I’m not a big fan of black olives but I love kalamata olives and I always have them on hand. I used them and that was just fine. The recipe also called for the mayo to be mixed with either 2 teaspoons of white wine or just plain vinegar. I split the difference and used 2 teaspoons of white wine vinegar and again, it turned out just fine.

Rinse the pasta and broccoli immediately in cold water

Rinse the pasta and broccoli immediately in cold water

LESSON LEARNED 4 – SERVING TIPS: I decided not to add tomatoes to the mix because the pasta was already mixed with diced cucumber and I was afraid the pasta would get too watery. What I wound up doing is cutting up a couple of cherry tomatoes and adding them when I was serving the pasta. I also sprinkled the top of the pasta with bacon bits when I served it so the bacon would not get too mushy in the dressing. It was fabulous!

LESSON LEARNED 5: USING CUCUMBER IN PASTA SALAD: I’ve never used cucumber before in a pasta salad and I liked it. It’s not over powering and gives the salad a cool crispness that has you wondering what exactly that flavor is that is brightening up the salad. Before I diced up the cucumber I cut it in half lengthwise and removed the seeds. That way only the cucumber flesh was in the salad and the salad did not become soggy.

LESSON LEARNED 6 – SUGAR IN THE DRESSING: The dressing recipe called for 1/2 teaspoon of sugar. I’d never put sugar into a dressing and so I had my concerns. I can tell you now, don’t worry about it and use the sugar. It balances out the tartness of the vinegar perfectly.

LESSON LEARNED 7 – MAKE THIS AHEAD OF TIME: What I’ve found over the years with making pasta salads and potato salads is that they even taste better if they’ve had time to sit and let the ingredients get well acquainted. If at all possible, make this early in the day and then let it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving. You’ll find that the flavors have become even more robust. But if you can’t, no worries, the pasta salad will still taste wonderful.

Once again, the greater amount of time spent making this recipe involves the chopping and dicing, which I love to do! This pasta salad has great flavor, is highly adaptable and I guarantee you that you can pronounce all of the ingredients used in the recipe. Try it and let me know what you think or how you adapted it.

Summer Pasta Salad…

  • Servings: 16-18
  • Time: 40 Minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
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pasta4INGREDIENTS:

8 ounces of a smaller type of pasta (I used radiatore)

2 cups tiny broccoli florets (use fresh if at all possible)

1/2 cup diced cucumber, peeled and seeded

1/2 cup finely diced red pepper

1/2 cup olives (I used kalamata olives, the original recipe called for black olives)

1/3 cup finely diced green onion

DRESSING INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 tsp. white wine or plain vinegar (I used white wine vinegar)

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp. sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Cook the pasta according to the package instructions, adding a generous pinch of salt to the boiling water before putting in the pasta. Just before the pasta is done cooking at the broccoli florets to the pot and boil for about 30-45 seconds. Drain the pot immediately into a colander and rinse well with cold water.

While the pasta is cooking, dice the cucumber, red pepper, olives and green onion and set aside. Mix together all of the dressing ingredients and set aside. In a large bowl pour in the dressing. Add the cooked pasta and broccoli to the bowl and stir well to coat. Add the remaining ingredients and stir again. Taste and adjust any seasonings as necessary (I found I need just a little more salt). Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Stir before serving. Garnish with cherry tomatoes and bacon bits if desired.

pasta

Pesto Orzo With Roasted Red Peppers and Olives…

Pesto Orzo Roasted Red Pepper Ingredients

Pesto Orzo Roasted Red Pepper Ingredients

I admit, I am not one for making up recipes – creativity in the kitchen is not yet one of my culinary skills. But this recipe is an invention of mine – totally made up on the spot (and I’m sure there is a similar recipe for this out there somewhere) and has now become a side dish staple in our house.

It really evolved from two things, that being a cooking class in which I learned the art of roasting a red pepper (no more store bought jars for me) and a huge crop of basil that forced me to figure out how to make pesto. From there the recipe took shape.  So let’s talk a little bit about home-made roasted red peppers and pesto. Once you’ve made them yourself you will seldom, unless time dictates, go back to buying it pre-prepared at the grocery store.

Flame Roasting A Red Pepper

Flame Roasting A Red Pepper

I first became aware of using roasted red peppers in recipes from watching the Food Network. It seemed that every chef I liked used them in a variety of different recipes but they mostly just got them out of a jar. Don’t get me wrong, the jarred roasted red peppers are great and are a real time saver, but if you want to control the flavor and minimize waste there is nothing like making it yourself. It’s so easy and I have to say rather fun as well.

The trick is you will need fire of some sort to do this, so a gas stove or other source of flame is necessary. All you do is put it on the fire and let it turn black, and I do mean black. Just keep an eye on it and when one side turns black rotate it until the entire pepper is black. That’s it. Then you put it in a container, cover it with plastic wrap and let it sit for at least 20 minutes. After that, you take a paring knife and scrape off the black matter and voila, you have a roasted red pepper! It can’t get simpler than that. I’ll put the complete recipe down below. Oil and herbs round out the flavor, but it is so easy and I like the fact that you control the amount you want to have versus buying a jar of peppers and having half of it sit in the refrigerator until you wind up throwing it out. This is easy and it has real cost savings as well.

The blackened pepper...

The blackened pepper…

The next part is the pesto. The prime ingredient in pesto is fresh basil. I like to grow mine in containers on my deck. Once you figure out how to grow basil you will get it prolifically, trust me. The first year I grew it I was not aware of cutting it back before it began to flower. That resulted in a very small basil crop. The second year I did a little research, did the appropriate trimming and I wound up with basil coming out of my ears. Using your basil to make pesto is a great way to have it year-round. I make mine and freeze it in batches and when I want some I just scoop what I need out of the container and let it thaw. I hear some people freeze it in ice cube trays and just pop cubes of pesto out when they want them. I had way too much basil to even try that. My freezer would’ve become nothing more than a haven for ice cube trays! Pesto freezes very well and every summer I wind up freezing a supply that takes me through to the following summer. I’ve included the pesto recipe below.

Homemade Pesto

Homemade Pesto

The rest is relatively simple, just a matter of cooking the pasta and combining the ingredients. My husband is a big rice fan and I’m not (being born and raised a potato girl) so I’m always looking for ways to either make a substitute for rice or jazzing up rice. Because of that I’ve become quite adept at risotto, my favorite form of rice, but that is for another blog. I found this recipe to be a great substitute for rice. As a matter of fact, my husband originally thought it was rice as orzo is a rice shaped pasta. Try this. I think you’ll really enjoy this one. Here is my recipe rating and lessons learned: Rating: A +++++ – now c’mon, you didn’t think I could rate a recipe made up by me any less than this, could you? But I bet if you try it you’ll agree. The combination of flavors is a perfect compliment to almost any dish. Lesson Learned 1: When I learned about roasting peppers on the stove I was told to let it sit covered for a minimum of 20 minutes before scraping off the burnt edges. I recommend waiting as long as you can. The longer you let it sit the easier it is to scrape it off. If you wait an hour or more it comes off in no time flat. Lesson Learned 2: When making the pesto recipe, initially add only half of the olive oil into the food processor. After that drizzle in the rest. You may find that adding all of the recommended amount may make the pesto too oily. I don’t like my pesto floating in oil, but some do. You can always add more olive oil but you can’t take it away once you’ve added it. Lesson Learned 3: The pesto recipe calls for a half of a clove of garlic. I like my garlicky and so I put in two cloves. Don’t throw them in whole. Just cut them in quarters – that way you will ensure they mix properly in the food processor. You don’t want to be chomping on raw garlic. Lesson Learned 4: The recipe calls for a 1/2 cup of cheese. You can add more to taste if you like. Lesson Learned 5: After you drain the pasta put it back in the pot you cooked it in and mix all the ingredients together under a very low flame. That way any residual liquid will evaporate so you won’t have a watery concoction.  

Pesto Orzo With Roasted Red Peppers and Olives

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS: 1 1/2 cups uncooked orzo pasta i large red bell pepper 1/4 cup of pesto olive oil (1-2 tsp.) 1/4 cup of kalamata olives chopped 1 TBS garlic and herb bread dipper seasoning DIRECTIONS: Place red pepper over open flame and blacken on all sides. Place in a heat resistant bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let sit for at least 20 minutes. Remove pepper from bowl and scrape off all of the black matter. Cut open, remove the seeds and yellowish veins and cut into lardons (lardons are simply small rectangular slices – see picture below). Add seasoning and desired amount of olive oil. Mix together and set aside. Chop the kalamata olives into small bite size pieces.

Lardons of red pepper mixed with olive oil and seasonings.

Lardons of red pepper mixed with olive oil and seasonings.

In a 3-4 quart saucepan cook pasta according to package directions. Once cooked, drain the pasta and put it back in the pot under a very low heat. Add the pesto (recipe below), roasted red pepper and olives. Stir to combine. Serve immediately.

Basic Basil Pesto

  • Servings: 12
  • Time: 1/2
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS: 4 cups loosely packed basil leaves 2 cloves garlic 1 small shallot, cut into pieces 3 TBS. pine nuts 1/4 – 1/2 cup olive oil 1/2 cup grated romano or parmesan cheese salt, if desired DIRECTIONS: Wash basil leaves and remove excess water. Place the basil, shallot, pine nuts, cheese and 1/4 cup oil in a food processor. Process, stopping to scrape down the sides of the food processor at least once. Check the consistency of the pesto. If too thick, drizzle in more oil while processing until the pesto reaches the desired consistency. Use or freeze. If not using immediately, store in an airtight container in your refrigerator or freezer.

Mix all ingredients together under a low heat

Mix all ingredients together under a low heat

Orzo Pasta with Roasted Red Pepper and Olives

Orzo Pasta with Roasted Red Pepper and Olives