As counterintuitive as it may seem, I actually find myself doing a lot of cooking in the summer -- and quite a lot of baking. This occurs for a number of reasons. One is that the farmer's markets have all that good produce, and we can't just eat it all raw all the time, now can we. Another is that we get invited to parties and barbecues and weekend houses, and I like to bring things I've made, which are undoubtedly always the most welcome of gifts. But sometimes, even when I've made the dough for the World Peace cookies ahead of time, the thought of lighting the oven is unbearable. And then, of course, there's that forementioned fresh green produce that I already overbought at the Greenmarket. My favorite solution in that case, especially if it's for a picnic or barbecue, is a salad lightly thrown together of barely cooked and raw vegetables, a bit of pasta, lots of herbs, and a fresh, flavorful dressing.
It's hard to get people to agree on much of anything, but a fair number of them seem to have arrived at the conclusion that pasta salad is a positively horrid article. There must be some people who like it, however, since deli counters and luxury food shops are full of the more loathesome versions of it, namely things like cold tortellini in cold pesto, neither of which are items that were ever meant to be eaten cold.
This salad, however, is one that I make every summer, and with any and every summer vegetable that I can find. Try not to think of it as a pasta salad. Think of it as a market salad, composed of all the things that are freshest and best at the farmers market on the day you're making it, along with some cooked pasta to give it ballast.
My only regret about this iteration of it, which I made on Saturday, is that I wish I had cooked the vegetables a tiny bit less. I actually didn't cook them much at all, and the snap peas and the peppers (not seasonal, but I had a red one in the fridge, what can I say) are actually raw. But I had asparagus and English shelling peas and little zucchini too (first of the season, still nutlike and sweet). And although they were as verdant and crisp and lovely as they appear in the photo above, I wish I had actually just blanched them, plunging them into boiling water for perhaps a minute, then shocking them in ice water to freshen up. However, the party of eleven to which this was fed were unanimous in their praise, and we heard no mournful tones at the appearance of pasta salad. Really, although I thought the vegetables could have used one minute less, the assembled company just wanted more.
Summer Vegetable Salad with Pasta
serves about 12 - 15
This is the version I made last weekend, relying on what was in the market (and that lone red pepper in the fridge). My usual template is little carrots, small rounds of young zucchini, pepper strips in many colors, whole cherry or grape tomatoes, some olives, and the pasta. But this incarnation was even better.
Make less if you're serving less. This has a shelf-life of about 24 hours -- its deliciousness decreases exponentially with time. Or keep cooked pasta and cut/cooked veg in separate containers, and dress smaller portions right before serving, if you're going to eat this over a few days.
2 large spring onions or 4 fat scallions, cleaned and roughly chopped
2 small heads of green garlic and their stems, or one fat clove of garlic, chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise (Hellman's real mayonnaise is the way to go here -- or homemade)
1 cup yogurt (I used Greek yogurt, full fat, but almost any yogurt will work
juice of one lime
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Place onions/scallions and garlic in the bowl of a food processor, and process until finely chopped. Add everything else, and whiz till emulsified. Taste for seasoning, and add whatever it needs. It should be fairly highly seasoned, since it's going to flavor all that pasta -- but not so heavily flavored that it masks the sweetness of the vegetables. Reserve.
2 cups of shelled peas, cooked for about a minute in a little water, then shocked in cold water and drained
1 lb of asparagus, blanched, refreshed, drained and cut into 2-inch pieces
3 small zucchini, cut into rounds, blanched for a minute, then refreshed in cold water and drained
1 red pepper cut into thin strips
3/4 pound of sugar snap peas, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound of pasta (spirals or any shape you like) cooked al dente, then rinsed in cold water
1 cup chopped fresh herbs (basil, lots of chives and mint are a combo that work well here)
Just before serving, toss everything together. This is a salad that's best when freshly dressed -- it doesn't need to marinate, and doesn't really benefit from it. Taste for seasoning, adjust, and serve.