Pasta salads, perfected

If you want to be at the top of the guest list for summer gatherings, it’s time to perfect a signature dish. Last year I was into dips, this year I’ll rest my laurels on pasta salad and I’m not talking over-cooked pasta with chunks of cheese and pepperoni doused with a bottle of Italian dressing.

Let’s talk instead about pasta salads bursting with complex flavors derived from unusual blends of herbs and spices, fruits, fresh vegetables and delectable dressings.

Pasta salads are fairly easy to make and can be prepared with or without meat or poultry. Often, I add leftover roasted chicken then serve the salad with bread or rolls for a complete lunch or light supper, perfect on a hot summer day (if we ever get any of those.)

What’s nice about pasta salad is that if you find a recipe that sounds good, with a few exceptions, it’s easy enough to substitute or add ingredients to suit your, and your family’s, taste.

The pasta shapes are interchangeable, too – and oh what a variety there are to choose from – shells, spirals, penne, couscous, bow ties, wagon wheels, tortellini, radiatores and even spaghetti. So, grab your pasta pot and experiment.

Farmer’s Market

Pasta Salad

2 cups halved baby heirloom tomatoes

2 small zucchini, thinly sliced into half moons

1 small red bell pepper, cut into strips

1 cup fresh corn kernels

1 cup sliced, firm ripe fresh peaches (about 2 medium)

1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions

1 (8-ounce) package cheese-filled tortellini

2 cups shredded smoked chicken

1/3 cup torn fresh basil

1/3 cup torn fresh cilantro

Parmesan Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Directions: Toss together first 6 ingredients and ParmesanViniagrette in large bowl; let stand 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare pasta according to package directions. Drain well. Add pasta and chicken to the tomato mixture; toss gently to coat. Add table salt and ground black pepper, to taste. Transfer to serving platter and top with basil and cilantro. Serves 8 to 10.

Parmesan Vinaigrette

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup olive oil

2 tsps. lemon zest

3 T. fresh lemon juice

1 T. balsamic vinegar

2 garlic cloves

2 tsps. ground black pepper

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Directions: In blender or food processor, process first 8 ingredients till smooth. Add herbs; pulse just till blended. Makes 1 cup.

Oriental Bow Tie Salad

10 ounces bow tie pasta, cooked and drained according to package directions

1 red bell pepper, seeded and slivered

2 cups fresh broccoli florets

1 cup fresh cauliflower florets


1 clove garlic, pressed

1/2 cup rice vinegar

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 T. teriyaki sauce

1 T. sesame seeds, toasted

2 tsps. sesame oil

1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

Directions: In large bowl combine cooked pasta and vegetables. In small bowl combine dressing ingredients and pour over pasta. Refrigerate overnight. Serves 10.

Broccoli, Grape and Pasta Salad

1 cup chopped pecans

8-ounces mafalda or farfalle pasta

1-pound fresh broccoli

1 cup mayonnaise

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup diced red onion

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

1 tsp. salt

2 cups seedless red grapes, halved

8 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled

Directions: Preheat oven to 350-degrees. On shallow baking sheet, in single layer, bake pecans 5 to 7 minutes till lightly toasted and fragrant, stirring halfway through.

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, cut broccoli florets from stems and separate florets into small pieces using paring knife. Peel away tough outer layers of stems and finely chop stems.

In large bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, sugar, onion, vinegar and salt. Add broccoli, hot cooked pasta and grapes. Stir to coat. Cover and chill 3 hours. Stir in bacon and pecans just before serving. Serves 6 to 8.