Thursday, May 24, 2012

Spring Pasta-bilities!

Spinning Wheel by Blood, Sweat & Tears
I love this band!  They are so iconic of the 60s and 70s and I adore David Clayton-Thomas' vocals.  He brought this song with him when he joined Blood, Sweat &Tears in 1968 and it went gold for them.  Every time I'd look at these pasta wheels in this salad, this song started playing in my head and made me think of all the happy picnics and BBQs of my childhood.  Aunts and uncles visiting, cousins running  around, Grandpa making his amazing chicken tied to the spit and us kids lining up to suck on the strings as he removed each one.  The table would be lined with bowls of salads and plates of desserts.  And, most likely, someone brought a radio.  And, most likely, this song was played.  And, if the picnic lasted long enough, it was probably played several times.  My hometown DJ loved BS&T - therefore, I loved them, too!

Pasta salads form a big part of the spring and summer menus at my house.  I don't know why I don't think of them as often during the cooler months.  I'll have to work on that!

One of my first culinary successes was a pasta salad.  My college-aged son had come home for the summer and had found his way into a group of fun kids his same age.  They'd plan all sorts of fun activities for the evenings.  One night he informed me that they were going to have a BBQ at someone's house and he had agreed to bring a salad to share.  He started asking about how he would go about making that and, as I explained it, I thought to myself that perhaps I'd just make it for him.  He was home for the purpose of helping us around the yard and, as he was gone away to school most of the year, I didn't get the opportunity to do things for him like a mom likes to do for her kids.  I wouldn't say I baby my kids - but I do enjoy helping them out - especially when they are so appreciative.  And he has always been a gracious soul.  So I said, "How about I just make it for you?"  His quick response - nay, his very quick response of, "Ok!  Hey, Mom, I'd really really appreciate that!" made me realize that that was exactly what he was hoping for all along!  Did I mind?  Not in the least.  Like I said, this kid is not shy about showing gratitude.

So as I went in to my house I realized that I was no pro when it came to pasta salads.  I hardly knew how to go about making a green salad let alone a pasta salad!  Why had I offered to do this?  He probably had more skill in the kitchen than I did!  I realized that the desire to help my son had overpowered common sense and all reason and had dimmed my recollection that I was not a whiz in the kitchen - yet.  So there I stood, in my pantry, wondering what I was going to do - with no time to get to the grocery store.

I asked myself - what is it that I like about the good pasta salads I've had?  I came up with these key factors:
     Moist - Ever had a plate full of pasta salad that's short on dressing?  Ugh!
     Texture - If everything is squishy it's boring.  I like crunches that are dry (i.e., nuts) and crunches that give a splash of moisture (i.e., bell peppers).
     Fresh Flavors - Nothing imparts freshness like fresh herbs!
     Pasta Perfection - Overcooked pasta = Not going there!  No way!  No how!  
     Color - Pick ingredients from all rainbow hues and catch my eye!

With this criteria in mind I chose my pasta and then raided the produce bins in my fridge looking for greens, reds, oranges, yellows, purples.  I made sure my textures were covered and selected fresh herbs that would work.  I carefully cooked my pasta and cooled it immediately with cold running water to make sure it didn't continue to cook and go mushy.  Everything was going smoothly until I discovered that I didn't have enough of the one dressing I was planning to use.  Hmmmm.  What to do?!  I only had the last bits of a few different kinds of dressings - ranch, poppyseed, and honey mustard.  Out of desperation I just dumped them all together and - Voile! - a hit was born!  When I gave it a taste at the end I couldn't believe how amazing it all tasted and that this delicious dish was born from ME!  All the fresh flavors helped but it was that dressing combination that set it on the winner's pedestal!

I proudly sent it off with my son to his BBQ and was happy to get the good reviews, along with the very empty bowl, when he returned home.  I finally had something to take and share at a function that I could hold my head proud and claim.  I finally was one of those people that got asked for recipes!  It felt good!

What goes into my pasta salads may change according to the season and what I have on hand, but I know that the crowning glory comes from using a creative dressing with multiple layers of flavors.  I try to always have those three dressings on hand from spring through early fall because, when a pasta salad is this good, I feel like it can be the star of a light summer meal any time.

For the recipe today I used a pasta shape that was fun and stacked easily on a fork.  
I took a walk through my salad and herb garden which happens to be planted out around my patio this year.
I searched my produce bins for my rainbow colors and set to chopping!  For those of you who like a road map to follow, I've included a recipe!  This salad is perfectly capable of holding the "Main Entree" slot on any meal!

Spring Pasta Salad
serves 10
8 oz. dry pasta, such as penne, wheels, farfalle
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 c. small carrots, chopped
2 T. minced chives
2 green onions, sliced thin
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, small cubes
1/2 c. sliced almonds, toasted
2 sprigs fresh dill, chopped
1 stem fresh rosemary, minced
3 stems fresh thyme, leaves stripped
handful of fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 c. ranch dressing
1/2 c. poppyseed dressing
1/2 c. honey mustard dressing
salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions and drain.  Cool immediately by running cold water over while in strainer.  Set aside.

Use a mixing bowl that is twice as large as the serving bowl you'll be using.  As you finish chopping and mincing each ingredient, add it to the mixing bowl.  You will need plenty of space in which to mix the ingredients well without worrying about them falling out all over the counter!  Add the drained and cooled pasta and the dressings and give it a thorough stir to make sure the flavors are well dispersed.  Season accordingly.  


  1. It was delicious! I am excited to have the leftovers for lunch today!

    1. I was glad someone was able to enjoy it and help with the leftovers! Thx!