July 04, 2008

at last, a truly great pasta salad

I love pasta salad, or at least the idea of pasta salad -- cool pasta, tasty accessories, simple and fresh and filling. But it's never like that -- it's either too full of stuff, or too oily, or too bland, or too something. So I rarely make it, other than to casually toss a few selected leftovers into a bowl of cold pasta for lunch on a hot day.

But my coworker made some for our office potluck last week, with basil, mozzarella and grape tomatoes, and it was awesome. I had some more for breakfast the next day, and was again struck by the yumminess. I asked her for the recipe, and it turned out to be just as simple as it seemed to be, but somehow the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I made some last night and took it to a July 4th fireworks party, and at least 5 strangers came up to me and told me how awesome it was, so i know it's not just me nerding out about this.

Here's how to make it:

Boil a pound of orzo in heavily salted water. Drain and rinse and drain again. Add just enough olive oil to coat the orzo. Cut up fresh water-packed mozzarella into bite size dice (1/2" or so) -- I cut ciliegine into 4 bits each. Cut grape or cherry tomatoes in half, or in quarters if you feel like the halves are too big. Rip up a big pile of basil leaves. Mix it all into the pasta and add ground black pepper, and extra salt if it needs any (it will probably want at least a little bit). Let it sit for a while before serving for best flavors.

I think that I added a shade too much oil, so i splashed in just a little bit of rice vinegar, and i think that was a good addition, even though it wasn't part of the original recipe. I also think that the trick is to get the flavorings in the pasta while it is warm enough to infuse the flavors, but cool enough not to cook the tomatoes or melt the cheese at all. The taste is quiet, but not bland -- it's somehow refreshing: creamy and spoonable from the orzo, basil-y throughout, and fresh from the tomatoes.

Happy Independence Day!

Posted by foodnerd at July 4, 2008 01:19 PM
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