Friday, July 15, 2011

Whole Foods Friday: Summer Pasta Salad

Whole Foods Friday is what I'm calling my new partnership with the local Whole Foods stores in Boulder County. Whole Foods lets me shop for what I need for any recipe I want to make, and I post the results here. Whole Foods also posts my recipes on their Boulder blog. It's a fun project.

When temperatures soar, cold food starts to sound a lot better. Sure, you could make a sandwich, but why not go for something more interesting? How about pasta salad? It's infinitely customizable, depending on what you like, what you have on hand, what looks good at the store, and what you're in the mood for.

It's also really easy to shop for. One stop for pasta (if you don't happen to have any on hand) one stop at the deli/salad bar area for the pickled goods and cheese, and one stop for the fresh vegetables.

The recipe for this pasta salad was created while I was shopping. I knew I wanted to start at the salad bar and finish with fresh vegetables. My plan was to pick up a few marinated items so the marinating liquid would become the dressing for my pasta salad. I chose a mix of portabello mushrooms and red peppers. Since I was scooping from the salad bar, I didn't measure exactly, but it was about a cup.

You don't have to consider this a strict recipe - it's more of a template for you to follow. Add more of things if you like, and leave out the ones that you don't. If you've got leftover vegetables from other recipes, by all means, add them.

Bell pepper, either fresh or fire roasted would make a wonderful addition, as would broccoli or cauliflower - either cooked or raw. Left over corn on the cob? Cut the kernels off and add them to the salad. The more vegetables, the better - pretty soon you've got a vegetable salad with pasta rather than a pasta salad with vegetables. And that's a good thing, right?

As far as the pasta goes, choose a shape you like. I chose Pipe Rigate because I thought it the shape would look interesting with the vegetables.

Putting this together takes very little time. Sure, you have to cut up some vegetables, but that's done in the time it takes the pasta to cook.

Summer Pasta Salad

1/2 pound (uncooked weight) dry pasta
2 small zucchini
2 medium pickling cucumbers
1 medium tomato
About 12 pitted olives (any kind, your preference)
Approximately 1 cup marinated mushrooms
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
Lemon juice or wine vinegar (optional, to taste)

Cook the pasta as directed.

Meanwhile, prep the vegetables. Cut the zucchini in quarters, lengthwise, then slice into small pieces. Peel the cucumber and cut into similarly-sized pieces. Core the tomato and cut into pieces about the same size as your other vegetables. I prefer the olives roughly chopped rather than whole. For your convenience, buy pitted olives, though, unless you happen to have an olive pitter.

If the marinated mushrooms are small, leave them whole. The portobello mushrooms I bought were a little large, so I cut them to about the same size as the other vegetables.

When the pasta is done cooking, drain it well and put it in a large bowl. Add the marinated mushrooms with all of the liquid. Stir well to combine. When you combine the hot pasta with the marinated mushrooms, the pasta absorbs the flavor of the marinating liquid. It also begins to cool the pasta.

Add the rest of the vegetable, and stir to combine.

Reserve a few tablespoons of the feta cheese. At this point, the pasta should be at about room temperature. The warmer it is when you add the cheese, the more it will melt, so if you want pieces of cheese, wait until the pasta is cooler. If you want a creamy sauce, add the cheese sooner.

Add the olive oil. If you have a flavored oil, that's even better. Stir to combine, and taste for seasoning.

The key here is to adjust the seasonings to your taste. The marinating liquid and tomatoes are going to add some acid, but is it enough? If not, you can brighten it up with a little lemon juice or wine vinegar. The feta cheese and olives add salt. It's probably enough salt, but you can decide if you need a little more.

Chill before serving. Garnish with the reserved cheese.