SUMMER’S NOT my favorite cooking season. I know the season is great for fresh ingredients with the farm markets overflowing with local produce and herbs, blah, blah, but summer cooking makes me hot, hot. In my house the kitchen is on the top level, and by late afternoon, the last thing I want to do is add any extra heat by turning on the stove.
Yes, we grill, but it’s pretty hard to make a complete meal on the grill, not to mention it gets pretty hot standing at the grill. My solution, besides take-out, is to make as much of the meal as I can in the morning. Cue the pasta salad. I can make one in the morning, tuck it away in the fridge and serve at dinner time. Add a grilled protein of choice, or not, and we’ve got a dinner we can enjoy in the still-cool house.
I follow a few basic principles. Pasta salads should be composed with thought; they are not a dumping ground for leftover ingredients from other dishes. Avoid fusion confusion: Combine ingredients you already know go together. Experiment to find the pasta shape you like. And, lastly, let the salad warm up to room temperature before serving.
Some of my favorites:
Smoked Mozzarella, Grilled Zucchini and Roasted Red Bell Peppers Pasta Salad: So simple. Cook the pasta according to package directions and rinse with cool water. Grill zucchini slices rubbed with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast, peel and seed red bell peppers or buy a jar already prepared, Cut the zucchini and peppers into small squares. Cut the smoked mozzarella into cubes about the same size. Mix everything together with olive oil, red wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.
Lemony Tuna and Chickpea Pasta Salad: Cook the pasta according to package directions and rinse with cold water. Drain and flake the tuna. Drain and rinse the chickpeas, if using canned. Mix the tuna, chickpeas and cooked pasta together. Add chopped parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
Caprese Pasta Salad: Cook the pasta according to package directions. Cut fresh mozzarella into small cubes. Dice whole tomatoes, peeled and seeded if desired, or quarter or halve cherry tomatoes. Mix the pasta with the mozzarella, tomatoes, lots of chopped basil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. The balsamic will make the pasta look a little brown, but it will taste great.
—Stephanie Witt Sedgwick
LittleBird “Stephanie Cooks” reports from her kitchen every Monday.