Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Crunchy Wife in the Kitchen: Creamy Summer Pasta Salad

Sorry I am a bit late on posting today.  Been very busy with summer wrapping up.  But this still qualifies as Recipe Wednesday, right??!!

I wanted to share one of my favorite recipes ever.  I have had many a pasta salad in my lifetime, but none quite like this.  My mother made this all the time for special occasions, but the most memorable was always my birthday.  When I went out on my own, it was one of the first recipes I harassed her to give me.  She can attest that I do this often and quite randomly.  The conversation usually goes something like this.  I call her up, usually at a random time in the afternoon when I'm thinking about dinner.  "Mom, do you happen to have that ___________ recipe handy?  Could you send it to me?", "I think it's around here somewhere, let me see if I can find it...." Proceeds to rummage through about fifty cookbooks.  Anywhere from 5 minutes to a week later, I get an email with the recipe attached, either as a word document or a photocopy if it's too laborious to type up.  One day I'm going to miss that about my mom.  It is nice to be able to get these precious family recipes with just a phone call.  The best part is... she always knows which recipe I am talking about even though she has at least 20 different versions of the same dish.  It is amazing for a woman that mixes up my name some days, and will go through a list of names including all of her sisters, my sister, and yes... even the cats.  I have been known to answer to "Trixi".  I am not very proud of that.

It is one of those dishes that is perfectly suited to a hot summer day, and given that most of the vegetables in this are in their peak season this time of year, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to share it with you.  This also makes enough pasta salad for quite a crowd, but it goes pretty quickly in our house.  You can also add a lot of veggies or a little, and substitutions are always in order.  Sometimes I add carrots, and other times I've been known to add squash.  Sometimes I leave something out entirely because I don't feel like making a trip to the grocery store or I'm making it for someone who doesn't like a particular veggie (Crunchy Husband's list is quite long, but most of the time he can pick out what he doesn't like).  However, I feel the vegetables I have listed are absolutely key because they give a lot of their flavor to the dressing.  Of course, that's my opinion :)

Creamy Summer Pasta Salad

1 lb pasta shells, cooked in salted water, rinsed in cool water, and drained
1-2 Large onion, diced
20 or so cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
6 stalks of celery, strung and diced
2 green bell peppers  (or mixture of green, red, orange, and/or yellow)
2 medium cucumbers, peeled (if desired), quartered and sliced
1 cup light Miracle Whip
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp celery seed
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
pepper and paprika, to taste

Ahead of time, whisk together Miracle whip, lemon juice, sugar, and seasonings together in a measuring cup.  Refrigerate dressing until needed.
Lightly toss pasta and veggies together in a large bowl, being careful not to tear pasta.
Using a rubber spatula, pour dressing over pasta and veggies.  Adjust amount of dressing added if needed.  (Sometimes I have to make more last minute)
Lightly toss mixture to evenly coat with dressing. 
Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight to meld flavors.
May adjust Miracle Whip, lemon juice, and seasonings to taste.
Before serving, place in decorative bowl and sprinkle top of salad with paprika, celery seed, and/or veggie slices for decoration.

Keep in mind, if you cook your pasta until it is al dente, it will absorb the liquid from the dressing overnight in the fridge.  This may be advantageous because the pasta itself will gain more flavor.  However, you may find that you need to add more dressing so your salad isn't on the stiff side.  

The most desirable texture for the dressing is going to be kind of runny after overnight refrigeration.  It is often the result of the veggies losing some of their juices into the dressing... this means a more favorable salad!  However, if the sauce is too runny, it won't coat your pasta salad.  So striking a balance is key!   

This salad is best when allowed to marinate for at least a day.  I always like it better the second time around because it's had more time to blend! My husband and I can make a meal out of leftovers by serving the salad  as a main dish.  It is one of the few dishes he can see a tomato in and not mind so much.  

Like I said, you can swap things in and out, depending on your tastes or what you have on hand. I grew some super sweet heirloom black cherry tomatoes that I'm sure would be really great in this recipe.   Also, I usually end up with more veggies than pasta!  Just play with it until you get it right, but let it marinade overnight before you go tweaking the dressing.  I usually add some extra lemon juice or even lime juice for a different citrus note.  I almost always end up adding some onion and garlic powder for extra flavor.  I have also added chili powder, red pepper flakes, or a dash of hot sauce for an extra kick.  It is all up to you!

Let me know how it turns out for you!  I would love to hear about your recipe tweaks, and even your suggestions for future recipes.  Just give me a shout in the comments below!  Green Appetit!

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