The pasta salad was made for pitch-ins, potlucks, and picnics. It’s the only entree or side dish item I can think of that gets better with age (except cheese, of course). Pasta salad always tastes better when it’s had time to sit in the refrigerator and let the flavors marinate together.
This post is part of the Indiana Family of Farmers Table Talks series. July’s theme is Picnics, Pitch-ins, and Potlucks, a perfect topic for a month in which countless family reunions and outings will occur. I’ve got some great tips to share with you to ensure that your next community meal is a success, but first, I have to talk a little about pasta salad.
Pasta salad is not a cop-out. No, it’s not just an easy dish that lacks luster. Just because you didn’t spend hours slaving over a meal doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of a spot at the community table, and I’ll explain why.
When I am invited to a pitch-in or community meal, I almost always bring a pasta salad with a vinaigrette dressing. While mayo-based salads are a preference for some, I’m finding that more and more people have specific dietary requirements (like gluten free, vegan or vegetarian) and mayo is something that many choose to pass on. My mom is a vegetarian (going on vegan) and this pasta salad would definitely be on her plate. You can always leave the cheese on the side for people to add in themselves when they grab their portion, though cheese is her weakness to becoming a vegan.
Pasta salad also tastes delicious after it’s sat for a while in your fridge. It must be something about how the pasta soaks up the dressing or how the flavors taste better cold than warm. Make it the night before you need it and pull it out of your fridge or cooler just a half hour before eating and all of the flavors will dance happily with your taste buds.
I must say that I make this pasta salad almost any time I’m invited to a community meal. It’s become a tradition in my kitchen to have it when we cookout with friends, visit our family in Terre Haute, and just anytime when we want to spend more time together and less time away in the kitchen.
So when you’re getting ready to prepare your next dish for a community meal, consider these tips:
- Always keep cold food cold. It should be stored at 40 degrees or below until you get ready to eat. If you’re taking meat to someone’s house to grill it, consider keeping it frozen and thawing it when you arrive.
- Many of your potluck, pitch-in and picnic favorites- salad dressings, marinades, cooking oils, rubs, sauces and baked goods– contain Hoosier grown soybeans. Soybeans would be a great addition to this pasta salad!
- Bring a manual or electric meat thermometer with you if you’re traveling some place to use a grill. Here’s a chart of internal cooking temperatures for your favorite meats: http://www.foodsafety.
- Here’s something I never thought about – if you’re traveling, put your cooler in the car with you instead of the trunk. It’s cooler inside the car (if you’re running AC), so your cooler and the items in it will stay cold!
Lemon and Herb Pasta Salad
Serves a large group of hungry people
- 1 box of rigatoni
- 1 small container of cherry or grape tomatoes
- 3 bell peppers (I like to mix yellow, red and orange for color)
- 1 cucumber
- Half a red onion, diced
- 1 16oz container of white button mushrooms
- Zest from one lemon
- Juice from one lemon
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- One large handful of herbs, chopped (I used a mix of dill, basil and cilantro)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 cup feta cheese crumbles
- Boil the pasta in water per the box’s directions. Drain the pasta and set aside in a large bowl to cool. Do not rinse!!
- In the mean time, dice up your vegetables and set aside.
- In a glass measuring cup, measure the olive oil. Add the red wine vinegar, lemon zest, lemon juice, the chopped herbs, and salt and pepper. Whisk to combine.
- When the pasta has cooled, stir in the veggies and half of the dressing. I suggest that you add the dressing in the amounts that you like – some people enjoy a lot of dressing, some not so much.
- But one thing to keep in mind is that the pasta is going to soak up some of the dressing, so you may leave a few tablespoons to add to the pasta salad before you serve it.
- Toss in the feta to combine and let sit in your refrigerator for at least a few hours before eating.
- Take the pasta salad out of the fridge 30 minutes before you eat to give it time to warm up and soften.