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Some like it COLD

A cold pasta salad -- the staple at many summer cookouts -- can be a signature dish or something thrown together by a novice.

When a host or hostess invites a crowd over for grilled steaks or burgers, guests usually bring the side dishes. Pasta salad is quick and easy, and there are as many variations as there are orzo in a box.

It's simple to make that pasta salad a healthful dish, especially when summer produce is abundant.

Dietitian Cheryl Bell of Chicago, who is a healthy-living adviser for Meijer stores, recommends starting the salad with a whole-grain pasta to increase the fiber, and to double the amount of vegetables.

Choose a vinaigrette dressing recipe, and use only half the amount the recipe states, she said. If you make a dressing from scratch and the recipes calls for 1/2 cup olive oil, choose 1/4 cup vegetable oil and 1/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth and mix it with a flavorful vinegar.

If the party is last-minute and you only have time to pick up a prepared pasta salad from the deli, toss in albacore tuna from a foil pack and fresh baby spinach, Bell said. That will perk up the dish.

In a recent edition of The Dallas Morning News, Karen Elizabeth Watts explained how to make individual stacked salads that will make a stunning statement at your next cookout.

She uses rocks glasses, otherwise known as old-fashioned glasses, the short, wide glasses used for mixed drinks. The dressing goes into the glass first. On top of that, layer the ingredients -- uniform bits of chopped vegetables, cheese and a protein such as grilled chicken, shrimp or crab -- and refrigerate the whole thing overnight.

At party time, carefully turn out each salad onto a plate. The dressing filters down through the layers. Slowly remove the glass by lifting straight up, leaving the salad mounded on the plate. Press down lightly on the center of the salad to knock it over, then begin eating.

Watts' pasta salad goes together this way: zesty Italian dressing, pasta of choice mixed with cubed tomatoes, chiffonade of basil, micro greens, shredded Parmesan, diced squash, diced zucchini, chopped pepper medley and crab meat.

Cook's Illustrated tested a variety of pasta salad recipes, and the kitchen staff developed a recipe for a light, vinaigrette-dressed pasta salad.

Too much acidity in the dressing can cause pasta to soften and the vegetables to dull in flavor and appearance. The cooks chose lemon juice for a nice flavor that's neither puckery nor sour.

Cooking methods other than blanching added more flavor to the vegetables, and they recommended grilling and roasting as good alternatives to blanching.

4 ounces farfalline pasta, uncooked

1/2 cup cubed fresh tomato

1/2 cup chopped red, orange and yellow bell peppers

1/2 cup diced zucchini

1/2 cup diced yellow squash

1/2 cup freshly shredded Parmesan

1/4 cup freshly shredded basil

3/4 cup zesty Italian dressing

1 can (4 ounces) crab meat, drained

Cook pasta according to package directions, and cool. Mix tomato with pasta. Add peppers, zucchini, squash, Parmesan and basil. Pour dressing over mixture, and toss gently. Add crab meat and toss gently. Makes 6 servings.

4 ounces macaroni or pasta shells, uncooked

1 can (11 ounces) mandarin orange segments, drained

1 can (8 ounces) pineapple chunks, drained

1 cup seedless red grapes, halved

1 container (6 ounces) low-fat yogurt, lemon or vanilla

1 cup strawberries, halved

Cook macaroni as directed on package. Drain; rinse with cold water. In medium bowl, combine all ingredients except yogurt and strawberries; mix gently. Stir in yogurt; mix gently to coat. Cover; refrigerate 1 to 2 hours to blend flavors. Just before serving, stir in the strawberries.

1 1/2 pounds asparagus, tough ends trimmed

3 large red bell peppers, cored, seeded and cut into 1 1/2-inch wedges

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more to toss with vegetables

Table salt and ground black pepper

1/4 cup lemon juice from 2 lemons

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 medium clove garlic, minced or put through garlic press

1 pound short, bite-size pasta such as fusilli, farfalle or orecchiette

3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot over high heat. Meanwhile, toss asparagus and peppers with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Grill asparagus until tender and streaked with light grill marks, 5 to 7 minutes, or roast in a 425-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes, depending on thickness, shaking pan once halfway through the cooking. Grill peppers, using grill basket if you have one, until tender and lightly charred, about 8 minutes, or roast in 425-degree oven until tender and lightly browned, 15 to 17 minutes; cool to room temperature.

Whisk lemon juice and zest, 3/4 teaspoon salt, garlic and ground black pepper to taste in large bowl; whisk in 3/4 cup oil in slow, steady stream until smooth.

Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt to boiling water. Cook until pasta is al dente; drain. Whisk dressing again to blend; add hot pasta, cooled asparagus, peppers, chives and grated Parmesan cheese; toss to mix thoroughly.

Cool to room temperature, adjust seasonings and serve. (Can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for 1 day; return to room temperature before serving.) Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Source: Cook's Illustrated

12 ounces bow ties or other medium pasta shape

1/2 cup vinaigrette salad dressing

1 cup frozen green peas, thawed

3 plum tomatoes, sliced

1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced

2 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped

3 tablespoons Parmesan, freshly grated

Cook pasta according to package directions; drain. Return to cooking pan and toss with 2 tablespoons vinaigrette.

Transfer half of pasta to a clear glass bowl. Layer peas, tomatoes, mushrooms and prosciutto on pasta. Top with remaining pasta. Sprinkle with basil, and pour remaining dressing evenly over salad. Sprinkle with Parmesan.

Serve at once, or cover and chill until ready to serve. Toss right before serving to evenly coat dressing. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Source: National Pasta Association

3 pounds broccoli (about 2 small bunches) florets, cut into bite-size pieces (about 7 cups)

1/4 cup lemon juice from 2 lemons

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest

Table salt

1 medium clove garlic, minced or put through garlic press

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 pound short, bite-size pasta such as fusilli, farfalle or orecchiette

20 large black olives, such as kalamata or other brine-cured variety, pitted and chopped

15 fresh basil leaves, shredded

Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot over high heat. In a separate pot blanch broccoli in boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes; drain and cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, whisk lemon juice and zest, 3/4 teaspoon salt, garlic and red pepper flakes in large bowl; whisk in oil in slow, steady stream until smooth.

Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt to boiling water. Cook until pasta is al dente; drain. Whisk dressing again to blend; add hot pasta, cooled broccoli, olives and basil; toss to mix thoroughly.

Cool to room temperature, adjust seasonings and serve. (Can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for 1 day; return to room temperature before serving.)

Source: Cook's Illustrated

2 medium eggplants (about 1 pound total), cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more to brush on eggplant

Table salt and ground black pepper

1/4 cup lemon juice from 2 lemons

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest

2 medium cloves garlic, divided, minced or put through garlic press

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 pound short, bite-size pasta such as fusilli, farfalle or orecchiette

2 large tomatoes, cored, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch chunks

15 fresh basil leaves, shredded

Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot over high heat. Meanwhile, brush eggplant with olive oil to coat very lightly, and toss with salt and pepper to taste. Grill eggplant until marked with dark stripes on both sides, about 15 minutes, or broil on baking sheet placed 4 inches from heating element, turning once, until tender and browned, about 7 minutes; cool to room temperature.

Whisk lemon juice and zest, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1 clove garlic and red pepper flakes in large bowl; whisk in 1/2 cup oil in slow, steady stream until smooth.

Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt to boiling water. Cook until pasta is al dente; drain. Whisk dressing again to blend; add hot pasta, cooled eggplant, tomato, remaining garlic and basil; toss to mix thoroughly. Cool to room temperature, adjust seasonings, and serve. (Can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for 1 day; return to room temperature before serving.)

Source: Cook's Illustrated

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