Wednesday, April 16, 2008

April 16: Pasta Salad with Spinach, Olives, and Mozzerella

I love some of the crazy shapes of pasta out there. I really am a big believer in the idea that there's a right shape for the sauce, and whoever is in charge out there really has done a pretty good job of making it intuitive for us. Shrimp goes great with shell-shaped pasta. Oil-based sauces are good with linguine and spaghetti. Penne rigate has ridges that does a good job of holding onto slippery sauces with a lot of fat, like cream or cheese sauces.

I am crazy about orzo, which is a small pasta shaped like rice. One of my favorite easy side dishes is a spinach-artichoke orzo, a true one-pot dish that you can make as healthy or decadent as you like. I also like orzo with broccoli and pine nuts--same idea as the other thing.

Pasta salad with a vinegar-based dressing goes great with a curly pasta, where the dressing can collect in the nooks. I like orecchiette a lot, those little flat disks with a little dent in them, especially. The trick to great pasta salad, in my opinion, is to cook the pasta, drain it, and rinse it in cool water until it's warm, not cold, then immediately toss it with the dressing, add the rest of the ingredients, and then chill until cold, an hour at least--it serves almost like a marinade for the pasta.

My favorite pasta salad is cheese tortolini or ravioletti, hard salami, roasted red peppers, red onions, and smoked mozzerella, diced small, tossed with fresh oregano, red wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. I also like whole wheat rotini, diced grilled chicken, and halved cherry tomatoes tossed with a dressing made of two parts pesto with one part mayonnaise with toasted pine nuts tossed in just before serving.

Pasta salad is easy, fast, a crowd-pleaser, and summery. This one looks particularly yummy to me. I love the combination of pasta and spinach. When I get back from Kentucky, I'm thinking I may make a big pile of this to carry in my lunch next week. I hate carrying my lunch, but I am being backed into a bit of a corner. More about this corner later.

1 pound orecchiette or conchiglie pasta
8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, drained, small dice
3 ounces spinach (about 4 cups), thoroughly washed and dried
1 1/2 cups pitted and halved kalamata olives
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons olive oil

Bring a medium pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook pasta according to the package instructions, or until al dente. Drain, then rinse under cold water until cool.
Transfer pasta to a large bowl and add mozzarella, spinach, olives, and Parmesan. Toss to combine.

In a separate, nonreactive bowl, combine vinegar, salt, and pepper. Whisking constantly, slowly add oil by pouring in a thin stream down the side of the bowl. Whisk until completely incorporated. Pour vinaigrette over salad, and toss until pasta is coated. Taste, adjust seasoning as desired, and serve.

No comments: