Perfecta Trifecta Pasta Salad

Spring has officially sprung, and in the cooking world that means out with warm and hearty soups and in with cool and fresh salads.

So go ahead, conjure up the image of a wonderful salad.

Did something with lettuce come to mind — a side of ranch, perhaps? Very likely so.

Yet a salad needn’t suffer from being the same old wilted field of greens slathered in heavy buttermilk dressing.

In fact, one of my favorite salads doesn’t involve even a shred of lettuce.

No, this salad’s base is pasta, the same stuff we often drown in marinara sauce. Well, it makes a wonderful partner for salad, too, and I find it much more filling for a lunch than those of the lettuce variety.

Of course, pasta alone a salad does not make, and I’d shutter at the thought of using plain old macaroni that is only a shade lighter than cardboard. Enter tri-colored pasta, a much more colorful affair, accompanied by wonderful additions such as tomatoes, cheese, olives and onions, all splashed lightly in the easiest herb vinaigrette you’ll ever make.

Get ready to wow your friends and be the star of the next picnic with a healthful, flavorful salad that only costs a few dollars to make. All it takes is half an hour and a little shaking and chopping. Let’s get to it.

Perfecta Trifecta Pasta Salad
(Yield: 4-5 servings)

  • 12 ounce box of tri-color spiral pasta (often called rotini)
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, washed and cut in half
  • 1/2 cup sliced black olives from a can
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1/3 cup diced cheddar cheese (or just use shredded)
  • 3 ounces extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 ounce red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry oregano
  • pinch of salt and pepper

Step 1: OK, I’ll admit there are a few ingredients in that list, but nothing is exotic and you’ll be amazed at how quickly it comes together. First things first: Put on a big pot of water (5 quarts or more will do), add half a tablespoon of salt, and bring it to a boil. This is what we’ll cook the pasta in. The salt helps add flavor.

Step 2: While the water is heating, slice the tomatoes, onion and cheese, and put them all in a bowl together. You’ll want to cut the onions pretty small so you don’t chomp down on a big piece.

Step 3: Measure the olive oil, vinegar and dry herbs, and put the solution in a small jar that has a lid you can seal tightly. Now add a pinch of salt and black pepper. Put on the lid tightly, turn on some Latin music, and shake for a good 10 seconds. Congratulations: You just made a vinaigrette. Try it and add more oil or vinegar or salt and pepper so it tastes good to you. If you don’t have a jar handy, put the ingredients in a bowl and whisk together. You’ll never have to buy the bottled stuff again.

Step 4: When the water boils, put the pasta in the pot and cook according to the instructions on the box. It should take about 9 minutes, and you want the pasta to retain a little stiffness to it, which in fancy words is deemed al dente.

Step 5: When the pasta is done, dump it in a colander and rinse under cold water, mixing my hand (clean hands only!) until everything is nice and cool. Doing this will stop the cooking process and wash away excess starch, which is no friend to such a salad.

Step 6: Put the pasta in a big bowl and combine everything else, pouring in the dressing a little at a time until it reaches a moisture/taste level that works for you. If you have some left, refrigerate and use it later, shaking to remix. The stuff also makes a great marinade. If you like your salad wetter, add more vinegar and oil until it suits you. And don’t be afraid to experiment by adding other ingredients to the salad, such as celery or marinated artichoke hearts.

Now all that’s left is to set this bright pasta salad before yourself and some friends, divvy up and enjoy. Combine with some sun and the companionship of loved ones, and this will really make springtime sing. Perfecta indeed!

Did you try this recipe? Write about your experience, ask questions or share advice in the comments area below.

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2 Comments »

  1. Cynthia said,

    March 26, 2010 @ 3:16 pm

    I love a fresh pasta salad! Keep up the great work!

  2. I Want To Cook » Last-minute Thanksgiving survival guide said,

    November 23, 2010 @ 9:45 pm

    [...] Pasta salad [...]

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