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Value Guru and the Search for the Next Pasta Salad

By Susannah Simone, May 27, 2009  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Susannah Simone
Spring Pasta Salad I'm not a huge fan of eating outdoors, but I am always up for making anything into an event if it includes sharing food with others. Therefore, I eat it, so to speak, when invited to a picnic or BBQ or outdoor potluck. Then I spend days obsessing about what to bring and run a million ideas through my head, mentally balancing my budget with the amount of time and effort I'm willing to put into that specific gathering at that specific time. I usually settle for pasta salad. I say "settle" because it always seems like a cheap copout to me. I think of how many times I've peered closely (and hopefully discreetly) at the unidentifiable "bits" and sauces that make up someone else's potluck bowl of pasta salad and skip it for something more easy to recognize as food. I think also of all the wonderful foods I know about and enjoy putting into a meal and how I don't want to "insult" great ingredients by tossing them into something that might be unidentifiable to some other discriminating potluck guest. Veggie PastaSo, how do I end up reconciling all the factors in this no doubt completely unnecessary overanalyzing? I make pasta salad anyway, but I try to do it with respect for ingredients, other event attendees and my own finances. I use the great ingredients and flavors I love, but I honor them by making sure the "bits" in my pasta salads are identifiable-big enough in size and not masked by some ooky, opaque sauce. And, for my budget, because a pasta salad is made primarily of pasta (read affordable) I can use some special ingredients, but I do so in smaller amounts than would be necessary in another type of dish. I have two favorite pasta salads right now. The first one is Cool California Sesame Shiitake Noodles, which I came up with last year and is always a hit, especially with vegans and vegetarians looking for a worthwhile entrée at gatherings. This year I started making it with whole wheat spaghetti noodles instead of capellini and it is just as good and even more satisfying for those not eating heavier meat dishes. Sometimes I make it without the edamame, too. It really doesn't need it. The other favorite is a pasta salad I more often make at home on a Sunday for supper with the purely selfish motivation of having plenty to take for lunch Monday and Tuesday. It is a Shrimp & Feta Pasta Salad. I make it with whole wheat rotini pasta, halved cherry tomatoes, halved boiled shrimp, seeded cucumber pieces, a generous amount of crumbled feta cheese, very finely chopped celery and red onion, lots of chopped fresh basil or cilantro or dried dill, black pepper and a little vinegar. Sometimes I use a little canola mayo or olive oil, but not always. And sometimes I add garbanzo beans. A sidebar on whole wheat pasta. A lot of people don't like it-or think they don't-but when you're trying hard to get more healthy food for your buck, it's worth figuring out how to make it work for you... or "them." For one, if you haven't tried it in a long time, know that the texture seems to have improved-lightened up somehow-in the past few years. The other thing I've discovered is that tomato sauce seems to bring out the most common unlikable qualities (sweetness and graininess), so I just don't go there. In my house I use it only for non-tomato-sauce dishes to make sure it gets eaten. Caponata PastaI'm thinking it's about time to come up with another favorite. I do love harissa and minced black olives in couscous, so that might be where I start. If you've got some ideas, bring 'em on and share them here. Maybe 2009 will be the summer we all remember as the year that the quality of pasta salads at picnics, potlucks and BBQs improved! Regardless of whether you're as ridiculously nitpicky about pasta salad as I am, here are more tasty pasta salad recipes to help you through the summer.




Meredith says ...
Pasta salad is so easy to throw together and the ingredients are relatively inexpensive. The lazy version I often make is just pasta (bowtie or rotini) with a vegan italian dressing and a variety of veggies: black olives, red bell pepper, cucumber, shredded carrots, etc.. If it's being used as an easy take-along lunch instead of a side, I add some baked or pan-fried tofu for protein.
05/27/2009 4:04:26 PM CDT
Jennifer White says ...
I have a couple that we use regularly in the summer. One is with shell pasta, kidney or black beans, corn, red onion, jalapenos, cilantro, lime juice and zest, tomatoes, and some salsa mixed with ranch dressing. The other is a lot like Meredith posted: bowtie, bell pepper, carrots, red onion, cucumber, Kraft Tuscan house Italian dressing or Scilian Garlic dressing. Add some fresh bread and it's ready to go!
05/27/2009 4:34:56 PM CDT
Erica says ...
I love soba noodles, shredded cabbage, broccoli, bell peppers, carrots, green onions, and snap peas, tossed with a sesame vinaigrette and lot of toasted sesame seeds.
05/27/2009 4:49:47 PM CDT
C. Ankuda says ...
Summer Orzo salad: SIMPLE SIMPLE SIMPLE.. Cook up some orzo 1/2 box or so,place in a huge serving/pasta bowl. Add in a handful of cut up orange, yellow and green peppers, some chickpeas, some grape tomatoes,some large shrimp that you've cooked off in a bit of garlic, a handful of edename, a couple handfuls of roughly chopped fresh spinach. Squeeze a lemon over it, then mix in some vinegarette (any kind will do)or mix in some jarred pesto. Great recipe since the quantities are whatever looks good to you. It's fast, fresh, colorful and totally summer!
05/27/2009 4:52:34 PM CDT
Louise Ross says ...
I've had great success with the following pasta dish which I've made hot for a main meal and cold for a picnic dish. It can be made with sobo noodles, rice pasta shells, whole wheat spaghetti, pretty much any pasta, actually. And I've used salmon, tuna, or mahi mahi -- any deep-sea fish lends itself well to this dish. Noodles with Salmon, Cilantro, Cucumber & Ginger-Lime Sauce 1) Mix juice of 4 limes with 1/4 cup of Braggs Liquid Aminos, or Soy Sauce, or Tamari with a tablespoon of honey (or honey to taste) and 2 tablespoons of chopped raw ginger. (Optional: you could also add a couple cloves of chopped garlic). 2) Stir above ingredients well, or until honey dissolves. 3) Wash and coarsely chop 1/4 bunch of fresh cilantro, one cucumber, 2 to 3 spring onions. Toss together. 4) Oven-bake, with a little oil, lemon juice, S&P, your choice of deep-sea fish, i.e. salmon, tuna or mahi mahi. 5) Boil your choice of noodles, i.e Sobo, rice, or whole wheat. To Serve: Toss hot (or cold noodles) in a bowl with cilantro, spring onions & cucumbers, spoon portions into serving bowls and top with coarsely chopped baked fish. Lastly, pour honey, lime, soy/tamari/braggs and ginger/lime/garlic mix over fish and noodles!
05/27/2009 5:07:43 PM CDT
christine says ...
pasta pasta time to eat your pasta!!!... sesame noodles with asparagus or brocolli...tahini, chili oil, sesami oil, soy, ginger, garlic...it's wonderful...we use whole wheat or rice noodles...topped with scallions and cashews...delicious!... it's good anytime, even for breakfast!... and with two out of four being vegan in the house...it works!...
05/27/2009 9:52:54 PM CDT
Paula says ...
This is my favorite- Cook 1.5 cups orzo in broth, 7 minutes or so. Cool. Add 1 can chickpeas, 1/2 cup fresh basil ribbons, 1/4 cup fresh mint ribbons. (Vary with whole wheat orzo, elbows, quinoa, crunchy sprouts, finely chopped kale, etc.) Dressing:1/2 cup red wine vinegar, 1/4 c fresh lemon juice, 2 tsp honey, salt, pepper, 1 c evoo. Serve room temp or cold. It's super!
05/28/2009 8:51:35 AM CDT
NJ_Cher says ...
Pasta salad sure isn't a "cheap copout" at Whole Foods because no matter what it has in it, it costs $7.99 a lb!
06/01/2009 9:42:24 AM CDT
FranC says ...
Your pasta salads are always delicious---now when I have to make mt own I always use some of the ingredients from your dishes. We also really enjoy your Lamb Shanks---they are the best ever---these days I wouldn't think of making them myself anymore!!! Shopping is always a delight now that you've opened near my home...Thank You
06/04/2009 5:16:22 PM CDT
Diana says ...
I made a pasta salad today, without leaving home :).....Cooked al dente, some pene pasta..........used what I had on hand: celery, green/greek/black olives, green onions, cilantro, fetta cheese and tossed in some shredded parmesean. Tossed it in Liza's Bon Appetite vinegarette.........salt/pepper to taste. Left in fridge for about 5 hrs so the pasta absorbed the dressing...........YUMMERZ! Hubby even liked it.
06/21/2009 6:49:44 PM CDT