One dish of our mom’s that my brother and I loved when we were growing up was something she made every summer. For every holiday barbecue, my mom would make a huge pasta salad. She always said that she made it up one day from a whole bunch of different ingredients in the fridge.
Once I went to college, I had to call her and get the recipe so I could start making it for my friends. Since then, it’s evolved a little bit – I add extra vegetables and I make my own Italian-style dressing. You can always change the ratios of the ingredients in this pasta salad; it’s very forgiving.
I love serving this at summer holidays with my Nana’s potato salad, and my own baked beans; it makes me feel like I have my mom and my grandmother in the kitchen with me.
Make sure that when the pasta is prepared, that it is a step before al dente. Otherwise when the finished dish marinates in the refrigerator, the pasta will turn mushy from soaking up the dressing. I’ve also found that the broccoli tastes best when it’s very quickly blanched by draining the pasta over it in a colander. That way, it doesn’t get over-cooked, but is a little more tender than if raw.
My mom always made it summer sausage or pepperoni, but I haven’t found a vegetarian sausage product that I like cold yet. Baked tofu or beans would make a nice protein addition to this salad. I also like to use the Barilla Plus rotini, as I have in the picture below, for additional protein. These changes can make it more of a vegetarian main dish.
Mom’s Pasta Salad
Serves 12-16 as a side dish
1 16 ounce box of tri-color rotini pasta (or your favorite type of rotini)
1 large bunch of broccoli
1 large red pepper, chopped
1 large yellow pepper, chopped
1 15 ounce can of black olives, sliced
1/2 large red onion, finely chopped
8 ounces Colby Jack (or your favorite cheese), cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
Prepare pasta until a step before al dente (so that when the pasta soaks up dressing, it remains al dente and not mushy).
Cut the florets from the broccoli stems, and chop into bite-sized pieces. Save the stems for a later use. Spread broccoli over the bottom of the colander that will be used to drain the pasta.
Combine the next five ingredients in a very large bowl or storage container.
In a measuring cup, combine the olive oil through the remaining ingredients and whisk.
When the pasta is not-quite-al-dente, drain over the broccoli and immediately rinse with cool water. Drain thoroughly and add to the vegetable and cheese mixture.
Pour the dressing over the vegetables and pasta and mix well. Store in the refrigerator for six hours or overnight. Check and adjust seasonings before serving. This keeps well for 3-4 days, and leftovers are delicious!