How I'm Making My Pasta Salad Better Than Ever This Summer
This year, we’re putting the salad in pasta salad.
I will be the first one to admit that I don't really like pasta salad. If I am going to eat a bowl of pasta, I want it to be warm, cheesy, and buttery. I do not want a chilled bowl of elbow macaroni with a random assortment of veggies, cubes of deli meats, and an intensely acidic, mayo-based dressing. When I pull up to the summer cookout, there will never be a scoop of pasta salad on my plate. However, there is an important distinction that I'd like to make. Pasta salad and pasta in salad are two very different dishes. Let's talk about the latter.
Pasta in salad is something that we should all be making. If you're the kind of person who will prep a large batch of quinoa, farro, or any other ancient grain to toss into salads throughout the week, then I ask you, why not pasta? Sure, pasta never got the "superfood" marketing treatment that quinoa or its sister grains have, but it is still a valid starchy salad component. (It's not like you'd look to your croutons for intense nutritional benefits, right?)
So, why is this not considered pasta salad? Great question. Traditional pasta salad is mostly pasta, but the pasta salad that I'm suggesting is mostly greens and veggies. See the difference? If I had to put a ratio to it, I'd say the ideal proportion of greens to pasta is 3:1. I still want to be eating mostly salad, with a noodle or two in every bite, reminding me that life is always more enjoyable when you're eating pasta. That said, the ratio of your Pasta in Salad should be whatever feels right to you.
If you're ready to hop on board the S.S. Pasta-in-Salad Express, I would recommend cooking anywhere from one half to one pound of pasta at the beginning of the week (you know your portion sizes better than I do). If you plan to gently reheat the pasta when you add it to your salads, you should plan to cook it to al dente; however, if you prefer the pasta in your salad to be chilled, then cook the pasta until it's done to your liking. Next, give it a rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process and rinse off any excess starch. For most warm pasta dishes, you'd never want to rinse your pasta, but since we're going to be eating it chilled, we don't want the starch on the pasta to cause the noodles to stick together. Before you throw your pasta in an airtight container for storage, give it a quick toss in some olive oil to further combat any stickage issues.
As far as the pasta shape, that's up to you. Short pastas are easier to incorporate into salads - so shapes like penne, rigatoni, fusilli, or rotini are all great options. If you want to go super tiny, you could even do orzo or ditalini. Any shape will fly, except for long noodles. Those may give you and your fork a hard time in a greens-based salad. Feel me?
When you're ready to make your Pasta in Salad, prepare your favorite green salad like you normally would. Maybe a chicken Caesar, or perhaps a simple arugula salad is what you're whipping up. Any salad works. Gently warm up some pasta (or keep it chilled - you do you) and toss it into the salad, making sure you've added enough dressing to lightly coat the greens and the pasta. That, my friends, is some banging Pasta in Salad.
Pasta salad haters (I see you and I am one, myself), this is a must-try.