[I debated a long time before hitting ‘post’ on this — in light of the horrific murders of black men in the US by police, and of the murder of police by armed snipers at last night’s protest in Dallas, a pasta salad recipe seems frivolous. But in my private life, I’m constantly urging friends and family to care for themselves, so we can all continue to fight for justice. Food is part of my self-care, and I actually truly loved making this recipe, though it’s been lingering a good month while my schedule got excessively complex.
So even though a food blog with an admittedly small readership is hardly the place to change the world, I sincerely hope that if you’re needing something simple and tasty to help you feel good, this can help you. Take care of yourselves.]
Y’all, it’s hot. And summer has a cruel, cruel irony, wherein the exact time the fields are bursting with beautiful things to eat is also the exact time that I want to spend as little time cooking as possible. I end up eating meals that are mostly things like “a peach and a chunk of cheese and a slice of bread” or “oops I accidentally ate this whole jar of salsa and giant bag of chips, I guess that’s dinner” or “tomatoes, what tomatoes, I certainly didn’t eat a pound of Cherokee purples like apples standing over the sink.”
But there’s this pesky thing that happens during the summer: potluck picnics. (OK, I actually love a potluck picnic, but still.) When people know you can cook, they expect you to actually, uh, bring things. Like, not just a handful of stone fruits and assorted ice cream remnants. Thank goodness for pasta salad.
Wait, no, don’t stop reading! I don’t mean the elbow macaroni and mayonnaise variety; I’ll admit that I have a soft spot for that kind, but I know it has a bad reputation. But no, there’s a whole world of cold pasta dishes out there, and it’s a great place to be in the summertime. This pasta salad hits all my buttons: simple and fast, light and sprightly in flavor, happy to sit at room temp for hours without poisoning anyone. Heck, it even uses whole-wheat pasta, so if you have a Pavlovian feeling of health and wellness associated with whole grains, you’ll feel even better about it.
So, if you’re like me and the thought of cooking pretty much anything is almost too much to bear, try this on for size. Grate some carrots, sliver some scallions, toss some well-cooled pasta in a citrusy sweet-salty dressing, and you’re in business. Then when you get back from the picnic where you have to show your public face, you can return to eating fruit straight from the fridge. I will too.
Citrus and soy-flavored pasta salad
I originally intended this to be a sort of American-pasta-salad spin on cold Japanese soba noodles. In the end the concept drifted a bit, and now the dressing is more a spin on a ponzu sauce: rich, salty soy meets bright, sweet citrus, with a zing of chiles in the background. Though its inspiration is quasi-Japanese, the flavors should go well with most anything, so bring it to your next summer picnic and enjoy it alongside whatever else shows up.
4 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
3 Tbsp orange juice
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp lime juice
2 tsp honey
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp chili-garlic paste
1 heaping cup inch-long scallion slivers (from 2 large or 4 small scallions)
1 lb whole-wheat fusilli or another shaped pasta
1 heaping cup grated carrot (from about 2 good-sized carrots)
1 c fresh or frozen peas
Sesame seeds, to garnish
Whisk together all the dressing ingredients (the vegetable oil through the chili-garlic paste) until they are thoroughly combined. Drop the scallion slivers into the dressing and toss to coat; let sit while you prepare the pasta.
Scallion slivers? This is basically shredded scallion. Lay the scallion on a cutting board and slice it lengthwise, leaving the root end uncut. Rotate the scallion and run your knife through it again, continuing to rotate and slice until the scallion is a mass of slivers. Cross-cut into 1 inch lengths, discarding the roots.
Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil, then add the pasta. While the pasta cooks, grate the carrot and add to the marinating scallions.
You want to cook the pasta to full softness, not just to al dente. When the pasta has about 2 minutes of cook time left — consult the package if you need guidance — add the peas. Continue cooking until the pasta is fully cooked and the peas are bright green.
Immediately drain the pasta and peas, and rinse with cold water until room temperature or cooler. Drain thoroughly and toss with the dress scallions and carrots. Serve chilled or room temp, as you like. Garnish with sesame seeds for some visual interest.
The vegetables are up for grabs here, so sub freely. I like the way way the narrow shreds of carrot and scallion wrap around the fusilli, so I recommend grating or shredding whatever veggies you put in. I look forward to trying daikon, jicama, and/or cucumber — with cucumber, just to get some of its excess water out, I’d salt the shreds lightly and let them drain while the pasta cooks, then rinse them and wring them out before adding them to the mix.
Some finely shredded egg might go nicely, too. Just make a simple omelet, either salted or sweetened in the Japanese style, then cut it into narrow ribbons.
I’m using whole-wheat pasta here, in a nod to the buckwheat noodles I was originally inspired by. I’d have happily used buckwheat pasta shapes, but wasn’t able to find any in a price range I liked; feel free to sub with just about any shaped pasta, according to your preferences.