Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Cooking Tip: Cold Pasta Salad Variations

Here We Are!
Here We Are!
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
It is so hot, humid, and unpleasant that our appetites have fled. Turning on the stove is an instant trip to a sweat lodge, beads of liquid pooling at the small of your back as you stir and chop and sauté. To entice the children and myself to eat something other than Fresca, beer, and slushies, I've had to get creative. My new motto is: “Cook once, eat five times.” Every time I turn on the stove, I have an array of dishes to prepare, a strategy for their preparation, and a menu plan for the next six meals. When we are not subsisting on fresh bakery rolls, cheeses, fruits, and raw sliced vegies, I throw together creative pasta salads.

The beauty of pasta salad is that it can be anything. The form is perfect for mixing and matching miscellaneous bits of this and that, found objects in your refrigerator and pantry, delicious seasonal vegies found on a foray to the abbarotes. A pasta salad can be sweet with fruit and a lime sour cream dressing or it can be savory with grilled meats and sautéed vegetables. You can explore culture themes with your salad simply by your selection of oils, vinegars and vegies: for Chinese add soy sauce and sesame oil with blanched greens, for Italian add caramelized onions, bacon, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese.

The bottom line is that if you are sufficiently creative, your family will get a complete meal in a cold bowl: protein, starch/carbo, vegetables/roughage, and small amounts of flavorful fats. You can make these salads in enormous batches which last for days in the refrigerator. Dinner consists of pulling out the bowls, pouring some juice, and getting out the latest pasta salad offering. Below is a variation I stumbled on when clearing the basil out of the freezer. Since several boats have already asked for it, I thought I'd share it online.

Chicken Basil Pasta Salad
Cook to al dente two pounds of a thick noodle pasta, preferably something in the rotelli or bow tie family. Drain and set aside in your large salad bowl.

In a skillet, sauté:
2 tbs olive oil
1 large onion sliced very thinly
1 cp minced fresh basil (fresh frozen works fine but dried is just wrong so don't even try it)
1 diced green pepper
1/3 cp pine nuts

You're going to sauté these slowly and for a long time until the onions are caramel colored and sweet to the taste. If you haven't caramelized before, look this technique up in a cooking book. It's an important skill. Add the vegies to your pasta and without cleaning the pan, fry the following:

½ cube of butter
2 lg diced chicken breasts
pepper to taste

Don't overcook the chicken. When it's done, throw it on top of the pasta and vegies. Stir all ingredients together with:

1 cp good Caesar salad dressing
1 cp Parmesan cheese

I don't make the dressing myself, but I also don't recommend a cheap brand. The cheap stuff is too sweet. Either make it or get a higher end brand where the first five ingredients are not a variation of corn syrup. At this point, you have a really good pasta dish which you can eat either hot or cold. If you want to stretch the dish even further, chill and add any combination of the following:

diced tomatoes
diced peppers, any color
minced green onion
marinated artichokes
shredded romaine
sliced avocado

Serves about 12.


seaparents said...

Thanks for the tip. We are now in Puerto Vallarta on our new cat and as hot and humid as it is this time of year all I want is fruit and fresh veggies. I dread the thought of cooking in the heat, so we have been living on salads, fruit, bread, and tuna. I think the kids will be sick of our new diet soon. I need as many idea as possible. Anything helps. thanks

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