Thursday, June 18, 2015

Summer Pasta Salad with Purple Asparagus

I absolutely love pasta salad. I like it as a side dish or a meal. Heck, I've been known to eat leftover hot pasta in its chilled state.

This pasta started with some purple asparagus, and then I started adding colors ... um, I mean vegetables ... to the concept.

The mini zucchini I bought were seriously mini - the diameter was about the size of a dime. If you use the larger (but not giant) zucchini, you can quarter them lengthwise first, then slice, if you prefer. Or just slice them into larger rounds.

This salad has a nice balance of textures, from the soft tomato, to the pasta, to the crisp zucchini.

The olives are optional, and you could certainly use a different type of olive. I tend to fling olives into salads without thinking, so this time I purposely left them out. For a while. Well, okay, when the salad was about half-gone, I might have tossed in a few extra olives. Hey, the jar was nearly empty, and I needed the space for a fresh jar of olives.

Speaking of asparagus, there was a short time when I was absolutely terrified of it. My mother never cooked it, so I was unfamiliar with it. But a friend's mom would occasionally invite me over for "spare-grass and eggs."

No, I didn't mis-hear. That's what she said. Given that my mom would forage dandelions in the spring, I had visions of this woman serving lawn clippings in scrambled eggs. I just couldn't do it.

Then one fateful evening, I went out to dinner at a relatively fancy place and the vegetable that came with my entree was white asparagus with hollandaise sauce.

I have no recollection of the entree, but I was enthralled with the asparagus. I could have eaten a whole bushel of it, if they had served it to me. I was in love. No more spare-grass fear.

The purple asparagus in this recipe came from my good friends at Frieda's Specialty Produce, who send me all sorts of fun things to work with. The purple asparagus should be cooked quickly so it doesn't lose its color. If you cook it too long, it turns green. Which isn't a terrible thing. It's just not purple any more.

As usual, I cooked the asparagus to be served warm for dinner, and refrigerated the rest. I love cooked, chilled asparagus, sometimes drizzled with just a little bit of balsamic vinegar. This time, though, I was yearning for a little pasta salad.

Pasta Salad with Purple Aparagus

1 cup pasta (I used elbows) cooked and drained
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 bunch purple asparagus, cooked quickly, chilled, and sliced into bite-size pieces
3 mini zucchini, sliced into rounds
1/2 large tomato (or 1 smaller tomato), cut into bite-size pieces
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
Small handful of fresh basil, torn
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/4 cup kalamata olives (optional)

Add the lemon juice and olive oil to the pasta as soon as it's done cooking, so it absorbs the flavors. Once the pasta has cooled to room temperature, add the remaining ingredients, and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, pepper, or lemon juice, as desired.

If you're using the kalamata olives, you can add some of the brine rather than adding salt - it gives a little extra flavor along with the saltiness.

If the pasta salad seems a bit dry, drizzle on a little extra olive oil before serving.

Have you ever tried cooking pasta by starting in cold water?