We love pasta salad. The root of our affection stems from the lack of rules and effort it takes to yield a gigantic bowl of delicious results. Once the water is boiling, we rely on inspiration to shape our pasta salad du jour. That inspiration comes directly from Wisconsin farmers – the fresh crops they deliver to the co-op provide countless, unexpected incarnations for this once staid side dish … can you blame us for doting? As long as we keep our pantries well stocked, we can keep ignoring rules and shirking effort in our pasta salad endeavors – the secret is stocking our pantries with staples that bring out the best in fresh, seasonal vegetables.
Before you stock up on mayonnaise and canned black olives (although feel free, just leave a little extra room in your shopping cart for fresh vegetables too) we’re not limiting ingredients solely to the classic recipes for picnic-y pasta salad – we’re stretching our pantries into Japanese and Italian territories – making for some unforgettable picnicking. We’ve got a lot of jars in our pantries and we’re not afraid to open them! Think fresh, peppery olive oil and perfectly tart balsamic vinegar; exotically aromatic toasted sesame oil and sweetly spiced ginger. It’s truly incredible how many windows of the world you can peek into with just a few well-chosen additions to your cupboard shelves.
We can’t stock a pantry with Japanese flair without some seriously delicious soba noodles on the shelf. They’re made from a mixture of wheat and buckwheat, are thin and have a sweeter, heartier taste and texture than other pastas. The most important thing to remember with soba noodles (and the step most often skipped) is to rinse the noodles after cooking. This will wash away the excess starch that would otherwise cause the pasta to be gummy- so give that soba a nice bath and you’ll be slurping noodles the way Japan intended.
As well as great taste and texture, buckwheat brings the benefit of being a complete protein to the table. We get pretty excited about things like complete proteins – they’re foods that contain all 8 essential amino acids and fun nutrients like manganese, both of which are provided by our buddy, buckwheat. Adding some soba noodles to your pantry won’t let you down on nutrition or deliciousness.
Next to that bag of soba, we always keep a big jar of semolina and whole-wheat pasta because there’s nothing like a summery pasta salad made with classic, Italian pasta. We’ve taken to the habit of mixing whole-wheat pasta into our semolina – an idea we got from Outpost’s deli- the delicious Penne Pasta Salad. We were always hesitant to make the healthy switch to whole wheat pasta because, let’s be honest, it’s just not the same. Mixed with the regular stuff, it’s a fiber-packed taste sensation that there’s no turning back from. Tossed in a great olive oil, sprinkled with toasted pine nuts – we’re on our way to an Mediterranean-inspired picnic that’s ready for any local vegetables we throw in. Love letters seem to be in order for Wisconsin farmers and Italy for making pasta salad such a perfect union between vegetables and pasta (we’ll throw a note in to Outpost too – for providing us with the idea to mix pastas!)
While it was really hard for us to decide which of our favorite pasta salad recipes we should share with you, we narrowed it down to a couple that truly shine as deliciously versatile, think-outside-the-pasta-box options. We hope you’ll be inspired to raid your own pantries, stretch them to international limits, break some rules and have fun creating your own “signature” dishes that will have friends and family members making special requests before all your summer get-togethers.
Soba Noodle Salad with Red Pepper, Scallions and Carrots
This pasta salad is a perfect summer food and even more incredible when topped with grilled shrimp, tofu or chicken. If these vegetables don’t thrill you – substitute in what does – thinly sliced vegetables work best but don’t let that limit your imagination! You’ll get the most flavor by letting the salad marinate for an hour before serving. Three words sum up this salad, no matter what veggies you choose: slurpy noodle love.
Serves 2 – 4
1/3 cup sesame seeds
8 ounces soba noodles
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
5 teaspoons shoyu or soy sauce
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, shredded or very thinly sliced
1. Toast the sesame seeds in a dry pan over a high heat until they look golden brown, and tip them into a bowl.
2. Bring a large pan of water to the boil (we add some salt to the water, you don’t have to) and add the soba noodles. Boil for about 6 minutes (or according to package instructions) until they are tender but not mushy. Drain them and immediately plunge them in cold water. Swirl them around, refreshing the cold water a couple times, then drain again.
3. In a serving bowl, whisk together the vinegar, soy sauce, honey and oil. Add the thinly sliced vegetables and the cold noodles. Toss thoroughly before adding the sesame seeds, toss again and let marinate at least an hour – it’s even better the next day! Serve at room temperature.
We really enjoy the Tinkyada spirals or fusilli in this recipe. The little twists and crevices hold onto just the perfect amount of Dijon dressing and are the ideal size for shoveling huge spoonfuls into our mouths. This is equally delicious with a mixture of semolina and whole wheat penne pasta or another flavor of Organicville salad dressing. Best served alongside the tunes of WMSE’s Poundcake Punk with DJ Drew serving up tasty punk rock music, new and old … because eating gluten free pasta is totally punk rock. Check out Drew’s archived shows: www.wmse.org/djs/drew.php
8 ounces pasta of your choice
1/2 pound green beans, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup fresh mozzarella cut into bite sized pieces
3/4 cup Organicville Tarragon Dijon dressing
1. Cook pasta according to package directions – Tinkyada recommends cooking to al dente and we agree!
2. In a microwave safe bowl, place green beans and 3 tablespoons of water in a bowl and cover – steam for 3-4 minutes until crisp tender. OR steam over the pasta as it cooks.
3. When pasta is ready, drain and run pasta under cold water and set aside. Rinsing is essential or your pasta will be gummy.
4. In a medium bowl, combine pasta, beans, pepper, tomatoes and mozzarella. Stir in dressing and combine.
5. Garnish with grated Parmesan if desired and enjoy.
How the Pantry Raid girls pack a picnic:
We’ve worked at the co-op a looong time and know a thing or two about packing a grocery bag. This has translated into impressive picnic packing skills – impressive or obsessive? You be the judge:
1. We use a combination of reusable ice packs and frozen water bottles to chill our coolers. Having several lets us layer the cold with the other stuff in the cooler – using a few water bottles provides us with cold water for cleaning up our sticky children when the picnic’s over.
2. Everything that gets put in the cooler is chilled first. Food safety is key – we want everything to stay cold for as long as possible to stave off bacteria. Nobody wants to leave a picnic sick from food that wasn’t packed at the right temperature.
3. Pack desserts on the bottom in a sturdy plastic container. Remember your parents telling you not to let the penguins out of the refrigerator when you were little? Same thing with the picnic cooler – keep it closed! Smart people like us pack what we’ll eat last at the bottom, what we’ll eat first on top to conserve the cooler’s coldness.
4. Pack drinks in a separate cooler. We love the sound of the creaky drink cooler when it opens – and it opens frequently! Keeping drinks handy in their own cooler means you can bring more AND your picnic stays insulated in it’s own cooler habitat.
–by Diana Sieger and Carrie Rowe