Pasta salad, I think, is one of those things that has a bad reputation. You find it alongside the selection of sad, dry sandwiches at the petrol station, or in a grotesquely over-mayonnaised form at the deli counter. People have had bad experiences with it and so, like prawn cocktail, chicken kievs and egg mayonnaise before it, it has an undeserved bad rap.
It is undeserved though. A good pasta salad is something you can throw together from things you’re quite likely to already have in the house, stick in a cool bag, and be eating somewhere wonderful with your family within the hour. It’s also, if you care about that sort of thing, a fantastic canvas for all sorts of vegetables your children might otherwise turn their noses up at, perhaps.
To avoid the unhappy, sloppy mess of the aforementioned deli counters, I think a few principles are necessary:
- You need at least an equal amount of other stuff in there as you do pasta.
- A quite varied array of complementary ingredients is a bonus. It’s a good opportunity to really clear out the salad drawer.
- You need to think carefully about the balance of piquancy, saltiness, texture and moisture (ie not overdressing) by tasting constantly as you go.
I think, if you follow those three rules, as long as you have a handful of nice things in the fridge, you should be able to put something really striking together.
Anyway, myself and my eldest visited the greengrocers this morning with a picnic in mind, picked up the freshest, most appealing looking things, and here’s the recipe we arrived at.
The tuna isn’t a big player here, so you can easily make this recipe vegetarian by leaving it out and, if you have a vegan mayonnaise to hand, then it’s easily veganised too.
For 4-6 people, you will need –
For the salad
- 320g fusilli (or other small-shaped pasta such as penne, conchiglie or rigatoni)
- 60g pine nuts
- A 150g tin of tuna
- A bunch of asparagus
- 5 radishes
- The greens from a bunch of spring onions (save the whites for something else)
- A handful of black olives
- A handful of mange tout or sugar snaps
- 1 pickle
- A small handful of cress
- A small bunch of flat-leaf parsley
For the dressing
- 150ml mayonnaise (make it if you can, but that blows the quickness out of the water a little)
- 1 heaped tsp dijon mustard
- The juice of half a lemon
- 2tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Put a big pot of salted water on the heat (salt it to taste like sea-water, and make the Italians in your life proud) and bring to the boil. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet, then drain, and run under the cold tap until cool to the touch.
Whilst the pasta cooks, put the pine nuts in a dry pan over a medium heat, til browned all over, then tip out to a small bowl to cool.
During this time (you probably have about 9-12 minutes) you can cook the asparagus. Snap each spear in half (they will naturally break at just the right place), chuck the cut end and either boil the tips or steam them over the pasta, for a couple of minutes, til they’re just tender to the point of a knife.
Slice the asparagus into one-inch lengths, finely dice the pickle, thinly slice the radishes, onion-greens, olives and mange tout. Pull off any thick stems from the parsley, collect it all into a tight bunch, and slice it finely. Put all that into a big mixing bowl, along with the cress, pine nuts and pasta. Drain the tuna and add it to the bowl.
Whisk together the dressing ingredients plus a good pinch of salt and grind of pepper, until thoroughly combined.
Add half the dressing, and gently fold together until everything’s lightly coated, have a taste, adjust seasoning if it feels it needs it, and then continue to add the dressing a little at a time until it feels right. I used all of the dressing in this recipe, and it felt ideal, but you may find you need less. Taste and season (if needed) again.
Ideally, this will sit in the fridge for a minimum of about an hour before you eat it, but if you’re off out somewhere, it should happily do that job in its cool bag too.
We took ours to the beach, and found our favourite spot up on the rocks to enjoy the spring evening sun. We ate it all. Easily.