Summer is nowhere near letting go of its grip on central Texas. Still, no one is really complaining about the weather this year. After 2 years of drought, my August garden is *still* looking like an English cottage dream. Last year this time we’d been in “triple digits” (a nice euphemism for hellishly hot days and nights) for months, and everyone was grumpy, including yours truly. It was pretty awful, and even the weatherfolk on TV were cautious about their joy in our breaking long-standing records for the most “over-100” days in a row. I think they were afraid of being lynched.
Just because it isn’t nearly as hot and dry this year doesn’t mean I’m in the mood for anything heavier than a nice cold salad, however. I love pasta salads. They are versatile, yummy, and a swell way to clean out the fridge while making what looks like a brand new dish.
This “salad” can be made to suit almost any taste. I offer it here the way I like it, but you can tailor it as needed to fit with dietary restrictions, your taste buds, or whatever happens to be in *your* fridge at the moment.
Prefer a gluten-free cold salad? Substitute rice for the pasta. Vegan? Leave out the cheese. Got some left-over cooked shrimp or a bit of cold roasted chicken? Toss it in. Most any sort of olives will work, although I like the little “Niçoise” style pitted olives best. Capers if you have them and like them, but they’re certainly not mandatory. You get the idea…
Just as an aside, this pasta salad also travels well. If you make it meat-free it happily goes on picnics (assuming you want to go outside in the heat) or on airplanes. As it involves no mayo or eggs other worry-some ingredients, it can be out of the fridge (although ideally in a cold bag of some sort) for a bit without fear.
The only thing I wouldn’t substitute is the lemon juice. You certainly can use white wine vinegar, or part lemon juice and part vinegar, but I think the lemon juice (fresh, of course!) makes for a creamy emulsion that just can’t be beat (no pun intended) and anyway (if you’ve been reading me for a few weeks or longer, you already know this) I love lemons.
So, here is my base recipe. Let me know how you’d make it to your liking, OK? I’m always open to suggestions!
Cold Comfort Pasta Salad
juice of 1/2 lemon
pinch of salt
fresh ground black pepper as you like
1 T fresh dill chopped fine
a 1-inch sprig of fresh rosemary, chopped fine
about 1-inch of green onion tops, chopped
enough pitted olives to make 3 or 4 T chopped
capers if you like them
6 or 8 cherry tomatoes cut in quarters
(your modifications/additions here)
1/2 C feta cheese, crumbled
Cook the pasta (or rice) as usual. While the water is coming to a boil, squeeze the lemon juice into the bottom of a large bowl. Remove any stray pits, add the salt and whisk to incorporate. Then slowly add the olive oil while whisking madly so that it forms a creamy emulsion. Add all the other ingredients except the cheese and mix well so that everything is coated with the “dressing”.
When the rice (or pasta) is cooked to perfection, drain it well and put it in the bowl. The hot pasta (or rice) will wilt the tomatoes a bit, and that’s exactly what we’re after here. Mix well to incorporate, then add the cheese and mix gently. Cover and chill before serving. (This is very pretty on a bed of lettuce, but equally at home just on a plate or in a bowl.)
Nice and easy, cool and delicious. Enjoy indoors or out! Mmmmm…