Watch out, pasta salad fans, because Sara Dickerman of Slate has some fightin’ words for your favorite summer side dish:
At its plainest—elbow noodles, mayonnaise, a careless scattering of celery and onions—it is the embodiment of the midcentury American fear of flavor. Perhaps even worse is the ‘new school’ pasta salad, which emerged in the ’80s. It looks good: It’s made with multicolored tortellini or fusilli in a thin, sweet vinaigrette and then gussied up with colorful canned olives and raw peppers or broccoli—garnishes that are the food equivalent of moussed bangs and shiny pouf skirts that can’t make up for a fundamental lack of charisma.
Yowch, I hope my mom doesn’t read this article! Actually, my mama’s pasta salad has evolved over the years, and its most recent incarnation—made with orzo, Greek olives, fresh mozzarella, artichoke hearts, grape tomatoes, and thinly sliced basil leaves—was so delicious that people were scooping seconds into coffee cups and eating it with spoons. That said, we endured many, many summers of cold, chewy, tricolored tortellini before Mom had her pasta salad epiphany.
Fortunately, Dickerman’s 12-step pasta salad program promises smashing salads without nearly as much trial and error. She recommends using fresh herbs, tangy cheeses, cooked vegetables, and a few can’t-miss ingredient combinations:
Think smoked salmon, finely diced red onions, and chives; or grilled broccoli raab, slivered black olives, and hardboiled egg; or grilled mushrooms, ricotta salata, and chopped parsley. Roasted red peppers, basil, grilled lamb, and feta work well together, too.
Or maybe spinach, olives, and mozzarella?