Tuesday, November 09, 2004


The title of this dish is a total lie, making it sound as though I have systematically conducted a thorough scientific sampling of all the pasta salad recipes the world has to offer before carefully declaring a winner. A more accurate name would be "My Only Pasta Salad." I can’t even think of another pasta salad I like at all; cold food generally doesn’t charm me. And many of the pasta salads I’ve experienced have contained some ingredient I dislike (olives, artichokes, green peppers) or have had heavy, mayonnaise-y dressings. But this recipe (courtesy of my mom, who has made it for me often) is light and straightforward, full of good things that go together brilliantly, so that each bite I take I find myself analyzing the different combinations: broccoli with mushroom, tomato with mozzarella, mozzarella with summer sausage, summer sausage with tortellini. I can tirelessly eat massive amounts of this salad, as can A, who has been a fan ever since I introduced him to it. This is for the best, since this improvisational recipe tends to result (for me, at least) in massive amounts of pasta salad. I go adding a little more of this and a little more of that to even things out, I decide I might as well use the whole package of mushrooms or the whole bunch of green onions, and suddenly I need multiple bowls to hold all the salad. It’s never a problem, because the salad will keep for at least a week (the mushrooms will start to stain the other ingredients, but that’s all) and tastes even better a few days after being made. It’s great for summer, when you don’t feel like cooking too much and maybe want something to take on a picnic (we always bring it to Cinespia and the Hollywood Bowl). It's also my go-to dish for parties and potlucks. But there’s no time of year when I wouldn’t make this. (Personally, I prefer it not to be ice-cold, and will let my helpings sit at room temperature for about half an hour before I eat—if I can stand to wait that long.)

Make as much or as little as you like. There’s a lot of chopping involved, but otherwise no skill is required.

1 package cheese tortellini, cooked and rinsed in cold water (I usually use the boxed/bagged stuff you find in the dry pasta aisle, about 12 ounces, but the refrigerated stuff works OK too)
4-8 ounces rotini pasta, cooked and rinsed in cold water (I usually use the tri-color variety)
chopped tomato (cherry tomatoes cut in quarters work best; I usually use 1 pint container)
chopped broccoli (I usually use 1 medium head)
sliced mushrooms (I usually use an 8-ounce package of cremini or plain white buttons)
chopped green onion (I usually use 1 bunch, which is about 6)
chopped fresh parsley (I usually use 1 handful)
fresh mozzarella cheese, cut in small cubes (I usually use maybe 4 to 6 ounces)
salami or summer sausage, cut in small cubes (maybe 1/2 to 3/4 lb?)
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
a few dashes Tabasco sauce
½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Boil a large pot of salted water and cook the rotini in it until al dente.

2. While it cooks, mix the tomatoes, broccoli, mushrooms, green onion, parsley, mozzarella, and salami/summer sausage in a large bowl (or you might need to divide it between two large bowls).

3. When the rotini finishes cooking, drain and rinse it until it's cool. Mix it into the bowl(s) of salad. Refill the pot with water and put it back on the stove to boil for the tortellini. When it boils, add the tortellini and cook it according to the package directions.

4. While the tortellini cooks, mix the remaining ingredients (oil, sugar, vinegar, Tabasco, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper) in a glass jar with a lid (a small bowl is fine too). Based on the amount of salad I've produced, I sometimes decide to go ahead and double the dressing quantities--do whatever feels good to you, but I say better to have too much than not enough.

4. When the tortellini is done, drain it, rinse it until cool, and mix it into the salad bowl(s). Vigorously shake up the jar of dressing (if you’re using a bowl, just whisk very thoroughly until the oil and vinegar blend) and pour it over the salad(s). Mix everything, grind on more black pepper because it makes everything better, and eat. (If you like a colder salad or want to eat it later, cover the bowl and throw it in the refrigerator, of course.)

Serves: as many as you like; with the quantities mentioned above, I can get at least 8 generous servings
Time: maybe 45 minutes

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