Maybe this is because when I think of pasta salad I immediately picture a bland mixture of tri-color pasta, broccoli, and black olives drenched in overly sweet Italian dressing, but even as I type that I realize that even the most artisan cold pasta creations from Tony Caputo’s don’t really do it for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll eat pasta salad (I’ll eat just about anything, really) but it’s never something I go out of my way to procure. I guess at the end of the day I just prefer my pasta served hot (preferably drenched in some kind of tomato cream sauce) and my salads to consist primarily of vegetables.
But like most of my deeply held convictions, I eventually came across an exception to my apathy toward pasta salad. It came in the form of a Mediterranean style pasta salad that my older sister created for a family dinner, and which I have susequently adapted and made for a handful of bridal showers, book club gatherings, etc. In my opinion, what sets this pasta salad apart is the homemade Italian dressing and the way it mingles with the oil of the sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts to create a complex blend of flavors; the high ratio of other ingredients to the pasta (of course, if you like more pasta you can always change this aspect of the recipe, but I prefer more of the other stuff); and the use of whole wheat pasta, which lends a nutty depth to the dish. If there were ever a reason to reconsider my culinary opinions, this pasta salad is it.
Elena's Pasta Salad
When I made this pasta salad for a book club last week, I had every intention of measuring out the ingredients and writing everything down, since people often ask for the recipe and I’m tired of responding with, “well, you just kind of throw a bunch of stuff together…” But life happened and I did end up just throwing everything together in a hurry, like always. So just use these measurements as very loose guidelines and go with whatever ratio looks right to you. As mentioned above, I like to have an equal amount of pasta and non-pasta ingredients, but do whatever you like.
Also, some of the ingredients in this salad might sound fancy but they are actually a Costco shopper’s dream because they stay good for years. I bought big jars of artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, and kalamata olives at Costco for a good price and now they just sit in the back of my fridge until I need them.
1 pound whole wheat spiral pasta
About 1 cup artichoke hearts marinated in oil (not canned), quartered
About ¾ cup kalamata olives, pitted and halved
About ½ cup sundried tomatoes, sliced
About 8 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into bite-sized cubes
About ¾ cup diced tomatoes (I had some baby heirloom tomatoes on hand, so I just used those cut in half)
1 ripe avocado, diced
About ½ cup Italian Dressing (recipe follows)
1) Cook pasta according to package directions and allow to cool to room temperature.
2) Once pasta is cool, place in a bowl with remaining ingredients and stir to combine. If making a day ahead, wait to stir in avocado and dressing until just before serving. Keep refrigerated.
Italian Dressing (via food.com)
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon grated parmesan cheese
Combine all ingredients in a bottle. Shake to blend. Allow flavors to blend about an hour or so, Will even be more flavorful the following day. Be sure to refrigerate any leftovers.