June 11, 2015
Lift your pasta dish above the ordinary.
Making ordinary, salad bar-style pasta salad is a no-brainer. And it usually is gummy, slimy—and tastes as if it were dressed with Penn Reel Lube. But making first-rate “gourmet” pasta salad isn't difficult either. It just takes a commitment to using quality ingredients and a bit of time management.
Part One, the Pasta
1 pound dry rotini pasta
4 quarts lightly salted water
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
I don't think the national origin (Italy or New Jersey!) of the uncooked pasta is as important as its shape and how it's cooked. Buy corkscrew-shaped rotini pasta that's made with 100% durum wheat flour and boil it in a big pot full of salted water until it's al dente, or just shy of being fully cooked. Don't worry, it will continue to cook while draining in a colander, and besides, a little chewiness isn't a terrible thing when it comes to pasta. As soon as the pasta has drained, put it into a bowl and drizzle about a quarter-cup of olive oil over it. Then stir to mix, cover and refrigerate. You can do these steps the night before, but it's not absolutely necessary. However, the pasta should be cool when served.
Part Two, the Shrimp
1 pound fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
(small are best, 41-50 count)
6 tbsp. olive oil
4 tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
It's important not to overcook shrimp (or any seafood, for that matter). Whether peeled or unpeeled, to keep them from becoming “rubberized,” drop them into a pot of boiling water and bring the water back to a boil. At that point, the shrimp are cooked and ready to be dressed and chilled. Whisk together the oil, vinegar and mustard. Mix the marinade with the shrimp, cover, and then refrigerate at least two hours.
Part Three, Dinner!
¼ cup Kalamata olives, pitted
¼ cup green olives, pitted
¼ cup julienne-cut sun-dried tomatoes (I prefer those packed in olive oil)
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste
Before assembling the final dish, you'll likely want to make another batch of the marinade you used on the shrimp and mix it with the cooled pasta. Pasta, especially rotini, can surprise you regarding how much dressing it can soak up. There will be some dressing left with the shrimp. Use that, and based on your preference, add more. Then, besides a good beverage, a gentle toss of the pasta with the shrimp, olives, tomatoes and cheese is all that's needed to get this dish to your table. Serves 4.