Pasta Salad

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!


Lasagna Bolognese

Those who are from the south know that there is a dish called “Southern Lasagna.” It is heavy with a beef, full-bodied tomato sauce and thick pasta. My grannie, grandma, and my mother all made their lasagnas the same. I could tell when we were having the dish for dinner because the smell of ground beef browning in a pan with fragrant Italian spices lingered in the air. After the sauce was made, I would watch my mom arduously layer the meat sauce and the thick noodles. She would then pile on mounds of shredded mozzarella on top of the dish. I remember watching the lasagna bubble and breathe through the window in the oven. It always seemed like it would never be done. An hour is a long time to wait for a 4th grader. It might have well been ready on my golden anniversary. Finally, the heavy pan was ready to make its debut. This dish is a labor of love that was crafted by the most wonderful women in my life, but if I had my perfect piece of lasagna, it would just be the topping! The cheese and pasta was always my favorite part. My mom would scold me for never eating the meat sauce. This recipe is a classic Italian lasagna and has a creamy texture throughout the whole dish. That way I eat my vegetables and meat too to make my mom a happy camper!


Recipe: Adapted from Tyler Florence’s Dinner at My Place: Makes 8-10 Servings

Fresh Pasta:

2 cups of flour

1 teaspoon of salt

3 eggs

2 Tbs. of extra-virgin olive oil

Place the flour in a mixing bowl fitted with a dough hook. Add the salt to the flour and mix well. Make a well in the flour. Add the eggs and 1 Tbs. of oil and incorporate with hook. Stop the mixer every so often to scrape down the sides. Knead the dough in the mixer until smooth and elastic. Place the dough on top of cling wrap and cover with 1 Tbs. of oil. Cover with wrap and let sit for 30 minutes.

Cut the dough in 4 pieces. Dust the dough with flour and pass through the widest setting in a pasta maker. Fold the dough over itself and pass again through the widest setting of the machine. Pass the dough through the machine, bringing the notch down to make the dough thinner and thinner, until you reach the thinnest setting.

Cut the pasta into sheets and let dry for 20-30 minutes.

Bolognese Sauce:

1 carrot, roughly chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 rib of celery

2 garlic cloves, peeled

Small handful of parsley, chopped

½ pound of ground pork

½ pound ground sirloin

1 Tbs. of flour

1 ½ cups of vegetable stock

1 14-ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes

¼ cup of milk

½ cup of freshly grated Parmesan


4 Tbs. of butter

4 Tbs. of flour

2 cups of milk

Salt, pepper, nutmeg to taste

1 pound of fresh mozzarella, torn into pieces

¼ cup Parmesan cheese

chopped parsley to garnish

To make the sauce:

Put the carrot, celery, onion, garlic and parsley into a food processor and grind until the vegetables are smooth. Coat a large pot with oil and sauté vegetables until fragrant and soft. Add the pork and beef to the pot. Season with salt and pepper. Brown meat in the pot while breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Dust the tablespoon of flour over meat and vegetables. Add the stock, tomatoes and milk. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook uncovered for 1 ½ hours. Add Parmesan cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper.

To make béchamel:

In a small saucepan, melt butter and mix in flour. Cook for just a few minutes to cook out the “flour” taste. Add the milk and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Keep on low heat and keep stirring while the sauce thickens. The sauce is ready whenever it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Preheat the oven to 3500

To assemble the lasagna:

Cut fresh pasta to fit a 9x13x3 inch pan. Set the pasta aside. Make a thin layer of béchamel at the bottom of the pan. Top the béchamel with a layer of pasta. Top the noodle layer with béchamel sauce and layer the meat sauce on top. Add mozzarella pieces. Continue layering with pasta, béchamel, meat sauce and mozzarella. For the final layer, shower the top with Parmesan and parsley. Bake, uncovered for 1 hour on a cookie sheet covered with aluminum. Let the lasagna cool for 15 minutes before cutting into.