Glancing over recipes cards is like rummaging through old memories. Some feathered, folded and frayed, splattered with sweet reminiscences, and aged with wisdom. Passed down from one to another, like heirlooms, entrusting the legacy of family dishes. There are also those recipes that are new, only existing in your handwriting, being perfected for generations to come. One of these recipes is pasta salad.
Growing up on Cajun fare, pasta rarely showed up on the menu. Crawfish fettuccini and lasagna were the only dishes my mother made with pasta, but secretly I craved Italian cuisine. So, whenever I found myself home alone in my sophomore year of high school, I needed to learn how to feed myself (sans pop tarts and cereal.) Thus began my love affair with pasta.
During my sophomore year, an unexpected event crept into my life. Found on my spine was a bone tumor, which broke a bone in my back. Within a few months, the tumor was removed, and I found myself recovering for months at home. After a few days of sitting at my abode, sick of toast, cereal and leftovers, I ventured into the pantry to find a humble box of pasta salad. It wasn’t anything fancy, just a box of spiral pasta with a packet of dried herbs that called for half a bottle of Kraft Italian dressing. After a few days, I began adding fresh tomatoes and herbs from our garden to the boxed pasta salad. This salad became my daily fare, the sustenance I needed during my recovery.
So, as I look over this pasta salad recipe, written in my handwriting, I find myself lost in the memory of being alone in the kitchen, perfecting this recipe, and the adventure of what it meant to create something of my own. Today I share this updated version of my boxed pasta salad with you, a recipe card I will forever hold close to my heart and always in my pocket for safekeeping.
Recipe: Serves 4 as a side
Note: You can use any type of tomato in this recipe. Beefsteak, cherry, grape or homegrown are great in this salad. You can also do a variety of tomatoes if you like!
½ pound of penne pasta (or any other shaped pasta like bowtie or shell)
1 pound of tomatoes, seeded
4 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 pinch of red pepper flakes
¼ cup of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped, leaves only
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese shavings, to garnish
Boil the pasta in salted water until al dente and drain well. Set aside.
Set up a mesh strainer onto a medium-sized bowl.
Dice larger tomatoes, such as homegrown or beefsteak, and if you are using grape or cherry tomatoes, slice in half. Place the tomatoes in the mesh strainer and sprinkle with salt (about 1 teaspoon or so should do.) At this point, the salt is not just for seasoning but drawing the moisture out of the tomatoes. Let the tomatoes sit in the strainer for at least 10 minutes, slightly squeezing the tomatoes with your hand every once in a while, coaxing the water out of the tomatoes. Allowing the tomatoes to drain this way will leave you with a more concentrated tomato flavor for your pasta salad.
Meanwhile, whisk together olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a small container (or shake all the ingredients together in a Mason jar.) Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste.
After the tomatoes have been sitting in the strainer for at least 10 minutes, place tomatoes in a large mixing bowl and discard any juice that came from the tomatoes. Add the finely chopped parsley and dressing to the bowl. Mix to combine. Add the pasta to the mixing bowl and toss again until all of the pasta is covered with the dressing and tomatoes. Top with Parmesan cheese shavings and serve. Enjoy!