Heat, Hyperbole, and Pasta Salad

Post by: Kim

I don’t do well in summer heat.  There are few experiences more unpleasant in this city than that hot breath of stagnant air pushed out of the subway tunnel by an oncoming train.  If left in the sun, I will whine and protest until covered by an awning or sheltered by a tree branch and will happily cross the street to avoid a sunny sidewalk.  So when I watched the weather report yesterday and realized that we were in for yet another bout of 90 degree weather, I moaned and complained bitterly that our forecasted weather was a full ten degrees above the average temperature for mid August.  It’s enough to make me grumpy until fall. 

With my sensitivity to heat being what it is, sitting in front of a stove in a kitchen equipped with little else than a window to keep me cool is a daunting task.  Baking has all but ceased for the season and meals that require very little preparation are preferable.  In this sort of weather, I need something simple.  Avocado on toast.  Or pasta salad. 

 

Kitschy as it may be, if well done pasta salad is a beloved part of any al fresco summer meal when the weather is bearable and dinners spent in front of the air conditioner recovering from one’s commute when it’s not.  There are an unlimited number of variations on pasta salad but this one strikes a perfect balance.  The bite of the vinegar and garlic is tempered by a subtle creaminess that is absorbed by the warm pasta.  It’s satisfying without being too creamy or heavy.   It’s also the kind of recipe that allows you to assemble your ingredients in 15 minutes or so in the relative cool of your kitchen before you put on the pasta water and promptly abandon the heat of the stove.  It can be served chilled or at room temperature. 

This recipe calls for ingredients widely available at any grocery store or market.  If you have difficulty finding capers, keep an eye out for Goya and Roland brands which are widely distributed and decently priced (under $3 at my corner store).  You should have no trouble finishing the jar; although I used to hate them, capers add a subtle briny flavor to any number of dishes and vinaigrettes and can be used as an alternative to anchovies.  Rinse them if the capers are too intense straight from the jar. 

Pasta Salad with Cauliflower

Adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

1 medium head cauliflower

1 lb corkscrew pasta

½ to ¾ cup finely chopped scallions

2 tomates, finely diced

1 large shallot or ¼ sweet onion, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, grated or finely minced

¼ cup finely chopped parsley

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed, finely chopped

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons mayonnaise or sour cream

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Lemon juice, to taste

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon chives (optional)

In a large pot, bring 4 liters of salted water to a boil. 

In a medium bowl, combine the scallions, tomatoes, shallots, garlic, parsley, and capers.  Add the vinegar, mayonnaise, and Dijon then gradually whisk in approximately 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil until the mixture is combined. 

Cut the florets from the head of cauliflower into bite-size pieces and set aside. 

Add the pasta when the water is at a rolling boil.  When the pasta is half-cooked and is still quite firm in the middle, add the cauliflower to the pot.  You can add the cauliflower later in the cooking process for a quick blanche but be careful not to leave it in for too long as it will fall apart in your salad.  You can also cook the pasta and cauliflower separately, as recommended by Deborah Madison. 

Drain the pasta and cauliflower, return to the pot.  Add the vinaigrette and tomato mixture and toss gently until everything is evenly incorporated.  Add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.

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