Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Summer Pasta Salad (with lime-pickled onions)

First, I have to say that I'm totally crazy about lime-pickled red onions. I put them on tacos and sandwiches and green salads.

When I brought red onions home from the farmer's market along with the rest of the vegetables that I was planning on using for a pasta salad, I knew I wanted to pickle those onions and use them in the salad, too.

Lime-pickled onions - the basic version - is incredibly simple and the result ir pretty great. The onions lose their sharp bite and the color changes to a pretty magenta-pink color. Meanwhile, the lime juice mellows as well, and also takes on some onion flavor.

And here's another confession. I sometimes use that onion-y lime juice instead of vinegar when I'm making salad dressings.

So, there I was, with my bag of goodies from the farmer's market and a jar of lime-pickled onions and several boxes of whole wheat pasta from Hodgson Mill. They sent me the pastas so I could enter a pasta salad contest they were hosting, and I got to work. Like this:

Summer Pasta Salad with Lime Pickled Onions

For the lime pickled onions:
1 red onion
Pinch of salt
Fresh lime juice, as needed

For the pasta salad:
6 ounces (uncooked) Hodgson Mill whole wheat shell pasta (1/2 box)
1 green bell pepper
3 medium pickling cucumbers, or 1 English cucumber
2 large roma tomatoes or 1 standard tomato
1/2 cup diced (about 1/4 inch dice) lime-pickled onions
2 tablespoons lime pickling liquid from onions
2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon garlic olive oil (or other flavored* oil)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Several grinds black pepper
Salt, to taste

To make the lime-pickled onions:
A day or two before you make the salad, make the pickled onions. Make extra - I usually make a pint at a time, so I always have some on hand.

Halve the red onion, or quarter it if you prefer smaller pieces, then slice into 1/4 inch pieces strips. Put the onion into a container - I use a pint canning jar, but anything non-reactive will do. Pack the onion in tightly. Add a pinch of salt, then fill the jar with fresh lime juice. It's hard to say how much lime juice you'll need - it depends on how well you packed those onions in, but you need enough juice to cover all the onions. If you're a little short of liquid, you can add cold water, but most of it should be lime juice.

If you don't have enough fresh limes, you could use bottled juice or even a mix of powdered lime juice and water, but I think fresh works best.

Cover the container and refrigerate the onions at least overnight, but longer is preferred. These keep well, but they generally don't last very long in my house.

To make the pasta salad:
Cook the pasta according to the box instruction in boiling salted water. You're looking for al dente.

Meanwhile, prep the vegetables.

Core and seed the bell pepper and cut in 1/4-inch dice. Put them in a large bowl. Peel the cucumbers and cut into approximately the same size pieces as the pepper and add them to the bowl. Core the tomatoes and cut in a similar size. Add them to the bowl. Add the onion to the bowl.

When the pasta is done cooking, rinse in cold water, then drain well. Add the lime juice to the pasta - the pasta should still be a little warm, but not hot. Toss the pasta with the juice, then add the pasta (with the lime juice) to the vegetables in the bowl and stir to combine.

Add the feta cheese, olive oils, and pepper. Give it one more gentle stir to combine. Taste for seasoning and add salt, if needed. Since the pasta was cooked in salted water and the feta is salty, you might not need more - it's up to you.

Transfer the pasta salad to a storage container and refrigerate until well chilled.

Before serving, stir well and taste again -the flavors will mellow a bit as it rests - and add more salt or more lime juice, if needed.

Serve chilled or at room temperature.

*There are a lot of flavored olive oils on the market these days. and I always keep a few in the pantry. Garlic olive oil is one of my favorites - some brands say it's roasted garlic, others just say garlic, but either way the flavor is milder and mellower than adding fresh garlic, and less troublesome than making garlic oil when you only need a little bit.

If you can't find garlic olive oil, you could use another flavor that you like. Chive oil would also be great, and lemon oil would add a different citrus note, if you like even more citrus punch. A rosemary or basil oil would add an herby note that would also work well.

Or, if you don't have a flavored oil, don't let that stop you. Just use regular extra virgin olive oil - there are plenty of flavors in the salad, even without the hint of garlic.

I received pastas from Hodgson Mill for the purpose of entering their contest, and they are also supplying a prize pack to one winner on this blog.

And a Giveaway!

I'm giving away a selection of Hodgson Mill pasta ($25 value; supplied and shipped by Hodgson Mill) to one lucky winner on this blog - US entrants only.

  • To enter, just leave a comment here telling me what one ingredient you think is essential in a good pasta salad - besides pasta, of course.
  • For a BONUS entry, tweet a link to this contest (say anything you like) and include the hashtag #SummerPastabilities. Then come back here and leave me a link to the tweet in the comments.

Contest ends August 17 at midnight, mountain time. Winner chosen randomly. All usual contest rules apply.

One more thing:

Through August 9, you can enter to win a pasta pack directly from Hodgson Mill right here.