Overcooked and doused with mayonnaise. Interlaced with random, soggy vegetables. Overdressed with too much lemon or vinegar with mouth-puckering results.
There are many ways a pasta salad can go bad. We put a lot of thought into the classic picnic dish and made ours very, very good, so you can enjoy it indoors, outdoors, wherever, all summer long.
We cooked the pasta—campanelle, because we love the shape and texture—until just al dente (less time than it says on the box) and immediately dressed it in olive oil so that the pasta doesn't stick. We can't say this loudly enough: No shocking in ice water!
Then we added a variety of vegetables and greens to give the salad a range of flavors and textures: sweet roasted tomatoes, very thinly sliced snap peas for crunch, purple basil because it's so damn pretty. We finished the dish by tossing it all in a walnut pesto sauce.
Our version is a little bit of work, sure, but it'll show you the potential of what a good pasta salad can be.
Pasta Salad with Walnut Pesto, Tomatoes and Snap Peas
Recipe from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen
Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
1 pound short-cut pasta, preferably campanelle
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
½ of a lemon, juiced and zested
½ cup walnuts, toasted
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pint (2 cups) grape tomatoes
⅓ pound snap peas, thinly sliced on a bias
2 cups loosely packed arugula
1 cup purple or green basil
1 ounce Parmesan, shaved
English pea tendrils, for garnish (optional)
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain in a colander and immediately transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and toss, making sure the pasta strands are not sticking to one another, and set aside.
2. In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots begin to soften, about 10 minutes.
3. In a food processor or blender, combine the shallots, lemon juice and zest, walnuts, red pepper flakes and ¼ cup of the olive oil and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
4. Preheat the oven to 400°. In a medium mixing bowl, toss the tomatoes with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and arrange on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake until the tomatoes begin to blister and their flavors become concentrated, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
5. Make an ice bath in a bowl. Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to boil. Add the snap peas and cook until they become just tender, about 2 minutes. Drain in a colander and plunge in the ice bath. When the snap peas are cool, drain, then transfer them to a towel-lined sheet pan to drain further.
6. To assemble the salad, add walnut pesto, roasted tomatoes, snap peas, arugula, basil, Parmesan and pea tendrils to the pasta and toss. Serve warm or at room temperature.