Mediterranean pasta salad has conquered our kitchen repertoire, extending their life even well beyond the summer. We are not going to deny that they have many advantages – they are easy, fast, and satisfying – but they are not a wild card in which anything goes. Getting a delicious pasta salad is really very simple if you keep a few basic principles in mind.
The Type of Pasta: Dry, Short And Ribbed
Fresh pasta is delicious but not recommended in a salad. Its different and more delicate texture does not make it suitable to drink cold, and it would be a shame to waste it on dishes that do not bring out its virtues. For salads, it is better to opt for dry pasta, but that is of first quality, made of durum wheat semolina.
The easiest formats to find are penne rigate -feathers or “macaroni”, also in smaller caliber-, rigatoni , maccheroni or elicoidali , conchiglie , pipe – “horns” and fusilli / rotini – “screws” -. In more special forms we can get with gigli, casarecce , radiatori , malloreddus or rocchetti . The farfalle or “butterflies/bows” are also suitable, although due to their peculiar shape they will present an irregular texture when cold.
Cooking: ‘Al Dente’, With Care
Ovehttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al_dentercooking is one of the most common mistakes we make when cooking pasta. The point known as al dente is essential to preserve a good texture and avoid chewy pastes; the problem is that cold pasta tends to harden.
When hot, it is advisable to remove it a little earlier than even recommended because it will continue cooking with the sauce. In cold dishes, it is advisable to respect the time indicated by the manufacturer to obtain the texture al dente or spend a minute, if we do not like it too hard. As much as we cool it, we will never cut the cooking instantly.
Rinse It Or Chill It?
The mortal sin of rinsing pasta under the tap is allowed in salads but making sure it is very cold, to cut the cooking. Of course, first, we will briefly drain it, keeping part of the cooking liquid: it could be very useful to lighten the dressing or sauce. Afterward, we will dry it with a clean cloth.
Another option is to spread the cooked and drained pasta on a large tray to cool, although this step can give us a very bland pasta. A good idea is to place it in the bowl with a part of the seasoning or certain juicy ingredients that are not crunchy. This will take part in the flavors while it finishes cooling.
The Additions: Less Is More
We repeat one of the maxims that must always be taken into account when making any salad: it is not a mixed bag or the destination of all the leftovers from the fridge. Almost anything is allowed, but with a certain order and consistency.
Pasta salads seek to be complete dishes, so we are interested in including vegetables and protein. If the dish is going to rest for many hours before being eaten, we will opt for vegetables that have already been cooked or that hold up well once cut. Green leaves and sprouts, very ripe tomatoes, or avocado are not good options here.
In the event that we prepare the salad one or, at most, two hours in advance, we can play with the crunchy contrasts in the raw. Cucumber, pepper, julienned cabbage, fennel, carrot, celery, zucchini, seasonal fruits – monitoring ripening – are good options to choose from and vary, choosing two or at most three at the same time.
If we are not sure when we are going to eat it, cooked vegetables are the best alternative. We can resort to preparing them grilled or roasted, cooked to the point, canned or pickled, which will also add a more powerful flavor. To add a crunchy point we have the seeds and nuts.
As for proteins, we can choose one or two, as long as they fit together: tuna belly or bonito, some smoked fish, egg, sardines or mackerel, anchovies or anchovies, grilled or roasted chicken, pickled partridge, tofu, edamame, or chickpeas, etc.
The fresh cheeses like the classic mozzarella, cheese, or feta Burgos also fit well, and we can marinate beforehand. Grated cured meats such as Parmesan or a Manchego will add much more flavor and can be mixed with the dressing.
Dressings And Sauces, In Moderation
A salad without dressing is sadder than a day without bread, but you don’t have to go overboard either. Many Italians would throw their heads at the sight of us mixing the pasta with mayonnaise, but being permissive, we could prepare a light dressing by adding a small amount of caloric seasoning. After all, we are not making pasta salad.
Good extra virgin olive oil, a little touch of quality vinegar, and little else are what a tasty pasta salad needs. If we want to give it more force we could make a vinaigrette with mustard, some natural yogurt, or a little Worcestershire / Perrins sauce. The cooking water of the pasta will help us to bind and lighten the mixture.
We will achieve much more aroma and flavor with lemon zest and juice, anchovy paste, dried tomatoes in oil, a little pesto, pickles, or abundant aromatic herbs. Spices are also highly recommended if we don’t have the fresh version on hand, always in moderation.
The pasta is very grateful to rest with its dressing and other ingredients to absorb the flavors but, again, not beyond two hours. We can always resort to taking the vinaigrette with us in a separate container to avoid spoiling it too far in advance.
The tasting should be fresh but not taken directly from the fridge, no matter how hot it is. Excessive cold hides the flavors and also modifies the textures, so you always have to remember to let the salad warm up a bit before serving and eating.
Ideally, we can taste it directly without having to cut or prepare anything else, directly in our Tupperware or serving in plates or bowls from the salad bowl. That is why it helps that the ingredients are properly cut, with a similar size, and in line with the format of the pasta.
Finally, we should not accompany pasta salads with bread, although we can add croutons or croutons. To push the ingredients, it is preferable to use a knife. And if there is sauce left on the plate to “scrape”, it will be a sign that we have overdone the dressing.