Let’s just cut straight to the chase here, shall we?
It’s been a long summer and I’m tired of eating bad pasta salads. Who’s with me?
It has become apparent to me that the majority of the world doesn’t know how to make a good pasta salad.
Of course, I’m not referring to any of you……….
But you must know what I’m talking about. You show up at the neighborhood or school potluck and see a half dozen or so pasta salads on the buffet table. Upon first glance you spy one that you just know is going to be great. But you take one bite and it’s drowning in dressing. You move to the next salad to find that it’s a dried out mess. Moving further down the line you fine one that lacks flavor, has a bad pasta to vegetable ratio and the worst offense of all, under or overcooked pasta.
So let’s talk about what does make a good pasta salad.
Here are a few tips to ensure that your next salad doesn’t totally suck.
- Let’s start with pasta. When cooking your pasta for a pasta salad you want to cook in heavily salted water. Yes, heavily. Like maybe a few tablespoons or so for a pound of pasta. This will ensure the pasta has good flavor. Cook the pasta just until tender and when you drain the pasta, don’t rinse it. Please, don’t rinse it. Lay it on either a baking sheet or right into a large wide bottomed bowl to cool.
- It doesn’t matter what you’re adding to the pasta- diced vegetables, cubed meat or cheese etc but it’s important that you have a nice balance. I like to do to a 2:1 ratio. For every 1 lb of pasta, add 2 lbs of whatever ingredients your using. Also, keep things uniform. Keep in mind what size pasta you’re using and cut ingredients to proportionate size as well.
- You want to makes sure your salad has flavor. Onions, garlic, citrus and fresh herbs are a great way to achieve this. Don’t be shy about throwing these in. When in doubt, add another pinch or handful.
- Once you’ve got that awesome 2:1 pasta salad in your bowl, how much dressing should you add? I say start with a cup. See how much the pasta and additions absorb and then, just before serving, add a bit more if needed. Remember, you can always add but you can’t take it out.
- I really love toasted nuts or a sprinkle of cheese in my pasta salad. PUT THESE IN JUST BEFORE SERVING. Please, for the love of all things holy, I don’t want to see soggy nuts or soggy cheese.
- Lastly, in an ideal world, I think pasta salad is best when made the morning of serving. If you must, make it the night before. But hold off on dressing it until 6-8 hours prior to serving. It’s just enough time for the flavors to merry. Making the salad to far in advance, you risk the vegetables losing their integrity.
So there you have it, 6 rules to help you on your way to making better pasta salads. All of man kind will thank you. Or at least the people eating your salad at the next block party anyway.
Moving on to this particular pasta salad. The recipe is adapted from a church cook book that I picked up in Charlotte, North Carolina a few years back. The original recipe calls for diced chicken and parmesan cheese but switched it up a bit to suit my tastes. Since I’m using cheese tortellini, the salad is a little more filling. Served over a bed of spinach or mixed greens, this would be an excellent light summer dinner. The dill is a total standout in this salad and I love all the more for it!
I’m curious, do you have a favorite pasta salad or a tip you’d like to share? Please leave a comment below, I’d love to hear what you think!
Vegetable Tortellini Salad with Balsamic and Dill
For the dressing:
- 2/3 cup olive oil
- 1/3 balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- pinch salt and pepper
For the salad:
- 1 lb tortellini,cooked to manufacturers directions, cooled
- 1 diced sweet red pepper
- 1 heaping cup diced broccoli
- 1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
- 1/2 cup chopped red onion
- 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 1/2 tablespoon dried dill or 1 tablespoon fresh
- 2 tablespoons basil
- 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
- 1/4 cup pine nuts, optional
For dressing, whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl. Or put all ingredients in a mason jar, cover, and shake to combine. For the salad, Combine tortellini, sweet red pepper, broccoli, peas, red onion, tomato, dill and basil in a large bowl. Toss with dressing. Add the feta cheese and pine nuts, if using, just before serving. This can be served chilled or at room temperature.