Seeing poorly made pasta salads that are nothing more than a pile overcooked rotini pasta with just a little bit of vegetables is not exactly how a pasta salad should be. Even worse is when a lousy cook just goes through the motions of doing the bare minimum to get through their work day and the vegetables in the pasta salad are stale. Most second rate restaurants and buffets choose to use pre-made bulk Italian salad dressing on pasta salads and the flavor becomes overbearing after the first few bites. The other problem with cheap restaurants and low end buffets is that the pasta salad is usually made so far ahead of time, that the vegetables start to decompose. A big pile of compost and pasta is not my idea of a good pasta salad!
In states where health codes are not up to standard, buffet food can be served the next day instead of being thrown away. By law, Las Vegas buffet food is thrown away and there is no such thing as leftover food in this city. A pasta salad that is a few days old creates an environment for pathogens to multiply like crazy. Acidic refined carbohydrates and vegetables that are not kept below 41º on a buffet can quickly become dangerous to eat.
What is the use of thinking that a pasta salad is healthy when it is actually 95% refined flour pasta and 5% vegetables? In reality, excessive refined carbo-loading is the theme el cheapo pasta salads.
A pasta salad is a tossed salad. Tossed salads are compound salads and they are not composed salads. Any salad is best, when is is made to oder or made shortly before it is served. Freshly made pasta salad that has a high percentage of vegetables and lettuce is best.
Pasta that is cooked al dente is the only option for a pasta salad. Overcooked pasta readily absorbs liquid and the carbohydrates convert to a starchy state that turn into prime pathogen fodder.
Larger pieces of nice garden vegetables are a much better choice for a pasta salad. Trying to eat tiny bits of hard vegetables in a pasta salad can be a struggle for a customer. When the vegetables are cut too small, they inevitably end up at the bottom of the salad bowl and it is easier to eat them with a spoon. Eating salad vegetables with a spoon is not really what the salad experience is meant to be.
Most pasta salads lack lettuce, unless a large leaf of lettuce is used to line the plate. The lack of crisp lettuce greens is a sign that a pasta salad was made ahead of time.
Crispy firm fresh lettuce is perfect for a pasta salad. Endive is a good choice. Many vegetables do need to be blanched, before being added to a pasta salad. Green beans and asparagus are two examples. Uncooked squash or zucchini in a pasta salad is not exactly exciting to taste. It is better to lightly grill those types of vegetables.
Rotini is not the only choice of pasta for a salad. There are many fine artisan pastas with interesting shapes that are well suited for pasta salad. Alternative grain pastas like durham wheat, quinoa and amaranth are good choices for those who prefer unrefined grains.
Today I chose to use some calabaza shaped artisan pasta. The Mexican pumpkin shape of this pasta looks great with the garden vegetables!
Artisan Pasta Information:
Some brands of calabaza pasta do use a thicker gauge pasta design and there is less broken pasta after cooking. Some brands choose thin gauge calabaza pasta designs that result in a high percentage of broken pasta after cooking. I happened to select a poorly designed thin gauge calabaza pasta, so there was a lot of broken pasta after cooking. The whole pasta was separated from the rest to make this salad.
If you choose an artisan pasta that breaks because of a design flaw, the cook more pasta than what is needed, so a portion of unbroken pasta can be salvaged!
Sometimes the fault is in the artisan pasta design and the cook is not to blame. Keep this in mind and do not blame your own good pasta cooking techniques, if an artisan pasta seems to not perform as it should. Artisan pastas are not always designed by experienced chefs!
Cook 1 small to medium size portion of calabaza pasta in boiling salted water, till it becomes al dente.
Once the calabaza pasta starts to cook, only stir it a minimal amount of times, so that it does not stick to the bottom of the pan.
When the pasta becomes cooked al dente, drain the hot water off of the pasta.
Set the pot under gently running cold water.
Allow the water to completely cool the pasta.
Drain the water off of the pasta and set it aside.
Cilantro Lemon Vinaegrette:
Oil is always added last in a vinaegrette recipe, so the flavors can immediately begin to meld in the acidic mixture. Acidic fruit juice, like lemon, can take the place of a proportion vinegar in a vinaegrette recipe. Dijon mustard is an emulsifier and it is not required in many vinaegrettes. Vinaegrettes are classified as emulsified, semi emulsified and loose stirred. This recipe is a loose stirred vinaegrette!
Place 1 minced garlic clove into a small mixing bowl.
Add 1 teaspoon of finely chopped cilantro.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of red wine vinegar.
Add 2 teaspoons of lemon juice.
Add sea salt and black pepper.
Add 1 tablespoon of virgin olive oil, while stirring.
Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of pomace olive oil, while stirring.
Set the vinaegrette aside and let the flavors meld for ten minutes.
Stir the vinaegrette before serving.
Calabaza Pasta and Garden Vegetable Salad with Cilantro Lemon Vinaegrette:
Heat a sauce pot that is 3/4 full of salted water over high heat.
Bring the water to a boil.
Add 8 asparagus tips.
Add 1/3 cup of thin sliced tender parts of the asparagus stalks. (Only peel the tender stalk section if the skin is thick and fibrous.)
Add 6 green beans that are cut into 1 inch long pieces.
Blanch the vegetables, till they start to become tender and they still have a crisp bite. (al dente)
Drain the hot water off of the vegetables.
Cool the vegetables under cold running water.
Drain the cold water off of the blanched vegetables and place them in a mixing bowl.
Add 3/4 cup of large bite size pieces of endive lettuce.
Add 1/4 cup of thin bias sliced carrot.
Add 1/4 cup of thin bias sliced celery.
Add few small bite size pieces of bermuda onion.
Add 1/3 cup of small bite size pieces of tomato.
Add 1/4 cup of green bell pepper strips.
Add 1/2 of a green onion that is thin bias sliced.
Add the al dente calabaza pasta.
Add enough of the cilantro lemon vinaegrette to coat the pasta salad with flavor. (A thin coating is enough!)
Gently toss the ingredients together.
Mound the pasta salad tall in a shallow salad bowl.
Garnish with a cilantro sprig.
The flavor of the Cilantro Lemon Vinaegrette is light, crisp and refreshing. Calabaza pasta really looks nice in a pasta salad. The high percentage of vegetables in this pasta salad is easily noticed. Yum! ... Shawna