Today, I spent some time in the kitchen assembling refreshing pasta dishes meant to be enjoyed cold.
Pasta salads have gained popularity through the years and are a great way to appreciate quality pasta. Unfortunately, in my opinion, they have also become very dull, boring, and even abused :( Often, pasta salad is associated with an image of mushy tri-colored noodles and vegetables that have been sitting in the deli for days. *** Please, don't let this spoil your appetite for something that has the potential to be so good!
Below I have outlined 6 easy (yet very important) steps that are sure to take your pasta salads to the next level. If you follow this outline, you will find that cold pasta is in fact very interesting and quite delicious.
1. Start with quality ingredients.
It is a simple statement that is so very true. Of course, use Talluto's pasta! These are simple recipes that showcase the high-quality ingredients that our pasta is made with. Fresh egg pasta, tortellini that are filled with pure meats and cheeses, half-moon ravioli filled with pesto or mushrooms, and even gnocchi and cavatelli are delicious cold. You will find those simple dressings are the best. We are not looking to hide inferior pasta with heavy, overly sweet, or fake ingredients.
2. Be sure to cook the pasta properly.
Use plenty of water so that the pasta is not overcrowded in the pot. Be sure that the pot of water is rapidly boiling before you add the pasta. Give it a gentle stir and cover, so that the water returns to a boil as quickly as possible. Once the water boils again, remove the lid and reduce the boil to a simmer to gently cook the pasta.
Also, COOK THE PASTA AL DENTE. This means that the pasta should be firm to the bite. Use the minimum cook time in the directions as your guide. The egg in the pasta needs to "set." If the pasta is undercooked, it will be gummy...and that is not good either.
3. Be sure to cool and drain the pasta properly.
Once the pasta is cooked, you want to drain it and cool it immediately under running water. This will stop the pasta from cooking. Make the water as cold as possible. This will assure that the pasta cools quickly and is not in the water any longer than necessary. When the pasta is completely cooled, drain it well and allow it to dry on a paper towel. Pat it gently with the paper towel to help it along. The idea behind this is to remove the excess water so that it doesn't dilute your dressing :)
4. Choose fresh ingredients that go well together.
Don't be overwhelmed by this simple statement. Choose ingredients that you like and that you enjoy eating together. In this example, I like red roasted peppers and broccoli. I think that they go well with Caesar dressing. You can add some olives and additional grated cheese if you'd like to.
5. Take the right shortcuts.
Sometimes, shortcuts are necessary. Make sure that you choose the ones that will not compromise the flavor and quality of the dish.
I like to make my own salad dressings however, I don't always have the time. If you are looking to save time, you can find a good quality store-bought dressing that is ready to go. I recommend looking in the refrigerated section of your market. Look for dressings that are made with the fewest ingredients. Also, try to avoid dressings with added thickeners and preservatives. These ingredients often dilute the taste of the salad dressings and just don't taste good.
Fortunately, pre-cut vegetables are easy to find. This is another option available to save time. You may also choose to pre-cut your own vegetables prior to making the salad.
One more completely acceptable shortcut is to cook the pasta earlier in the day. I wouldn't cook it days in advance but, a few hours before is completely fine. Follow the cooking/cooling/drying steps and then toss the pasta lightly with a little olive or canola oil. Store the oil-coated pasta in a zip lock bag until you are ready to mix and eat.
6. Make it fresh!
Use fresh ingredients, cook the pasta fresh, & mix the salad with the dressing just before you are ready to enjoy it. This is the basic recipe for the best pasta salads.
Below: Cheese Gnocchi with Roasted Red Peppers, Broccoli, and Caesar dressing
Pictured below are a few other combinations that I like. Visit our recipe page to see the details: CLICK HERE
Gluten-free Rigatoni Stuffed With Goat Cheese with chopped sun-dried tomatoes and herb vinaigrette.
Fusilli Pasta with Melon, Crispy Pancetta, and Mint dressing
Salmon Involtini (spring rolls) made with fresh egg pasta sheets
Asiago Tortellini skewers with avocado, tomato, and black olives.
Pesto Agnolotti Salad with plum tomatoes and mustard vinaigrette.
-Joanne Talluto Brown