Italian Pasta Salad
An Ideal Summer Meal: Cool, Fresh... and Portable
I am not sure when I first made Italian pasta salad. I think it was when I was still living at my parent's home. I suspect that pasta salad was one of the first things I ever took to a potluck. In the years after, I made the dish for potlucks and picnics and sometimes cooked it for dinner (for as many as 15 or 20 people!) at a vegetarian housing co-op. I've sometimes made a pot of it to use myself during the dog days of summer. If I use cherry tomatoes or sun dried tomatoes, it keeps quite nicely.
The recipe has evolved some over the years. At first I made the dressing by adding oil, vinegar, and seasoning straight to the pot. Soon I began marinating some of the vegetables beforehand and letting the marinade liquid be the dressing. One thing I have never done is used bottled Italian dressing... And that I think is one of the keys to making Italian pasta salad. You can vary the ingredients and make substitutions more or less at will, and before long you'll chuck your recipe altogether. But do add a variety of colorful whole ingredients -- and don't be tempted to use the bottled dressing with the corn syrup.
The Ingredient List
This recipe is vegan as written. Most Italian pasta salad is at least vegetarian, but it's common to sprinkle in a little grated cheese. The more marinades (or fresh herbs and garlic) you use, the less you'll tend to miss cheese. Of course you can add in a sprinkle of cheese at the end if you choose.
- A package of tri-color pasta (bow ties or spirals)
- Sliced mushrooms
- Olive oil You can substitute canola, but the olive is better.
- Red wine vinegar
- Fresh garlic
- Sun dried tomatoes and/or frozen artichoke hearts I do the marinating myself.
- Fresh or frozen Bell peppers This is one area where I really do prefer frozen. I buy frozen tri-color peppers from Trader Joe's. They are cheaper than fresh, taste surprisingly fresh... and are always on hand.
- Cherry or grape tomatoes (The advantage to using whole small tomatoes is that the salad keeps better. Of course if you have small children, you'll want to slice their cherry tomatoes.)
- Canned black olives
- Parsley (traditional curly parsley, not cilantro)
- Italian Seasoning
- Fresh ground pepper
- Salt, or Bragg's Liquid Aminos
- Optional: Fresh basil This is not something I have often unless I am growing a plant. It's a good addition.
- Optional: Baby corn This is another one that isn't often on hand, but goes very nicely in the salad.
Step 1: Making the Marinades
You have a choice between making marinades well in advance and storing them, or making them just a little before cooking.
The liquid in your marinated mushrooms will ultimately be the main part of your dressing. It's good to steam or microwave fresh mushrooms slightly before cooking. Use a dressing that's about two parts vinegar and one part oil, and make sure the mushrooms are mostly covered -- it's OK if a bit of mushroom is sticking out here or there. Mince a few garlic cloves, then add some Italian seasoning and mix everything well. Pop the concoction in the refrigerator.
You can marinate the sun dried tomatoes in pure oil with just a little minced garlic. (I use a tiny Tupperware container for this -- a little goes a long way.)
Sun Dried Tomatoes
It's so much more economical do the marinading yourself. Even a 3 ounce bag can go quite a ways. This one is 16 ounces.
Making the Pasta Salad
Boil water and cook your pasta for the amount of time in indicated -- or close to it. It can be good to have the pasta just a bit on the firm side as it will soften.
Drain. Add your vegetables in and give a good stir. You may want to save a bit of the parsley for a garnish at the end. If you are using any chopped tomatoes, you'll want to make sure the pasta salad is well chilled before adding them. If you're using cherry tomatoes, it's not so important.
Add salt and pepper to taste. Your marinades will have some Italian seasoning and vinegar, but you may want to add a bit more. When the seasoning is right, add a little parsley on top.
Video: Another Take on Italian Pasta Salad
This recipe is quite a bit different. It uses fewer vegetables and 'solids', but the dressing may be a bit more elaborate, and you get a good step by step of the cooking process. The cook here uses minced garlic from a jar. I would choose powdered garlic over the commercial minced garlic. The product in the jar tends to lend a very different flavor to the mix.
Video: Pasta Salad with Everything in it
This recipe is also quite a bit different than mine, but in an opposite way. The chef here spared no expense -- there are quite a few pricey, pre-made marinades. There is also something decidedly non-vegetarian thrown in toward the end: Italian sausage. It would be pretty easy to reign the recipe in, though, and make it veggie. The lesson in this video is that you can marinate or pickle just about anything and put it in pasta salad. (Garlic stuffed olives? Now that does look good.)
More Pasta Salad Recipes
Here are more recipes for Italian pasta salad and its cousin, Greek pasta salad.