The scene? My kitchen. The day? Last Thursday. The idea? Take everything out of my refrigerator–fresh mozzarella, a red onion, scallions, celery, parsley, dill, a nectarine (ok, that wasn’t in the refrigerator, it was on the counter)–and make dinner. I didn’t know what I was going to make but then I had a thought: “What if I make a pasta salad? And what if that pasta salad is kind of healthy? What if I uses Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise and lots of these fresh herbs to perk it up?”
Ladies and gentlemen: a star was born.
If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like to improvise in the kitchen, or who’s too afraid not to follow a recipe, it’s often just a matter of emptying your fridge and looking at what you have. And often what you have–if it’s leftover from a previous day’s recipe–will naturally go together.
When in doubt, though, just work it into a pasta. Pasta can handle anything.
For pasta salad (which is ideal in summer) you cook the pasta for precisely the amount of time listed on the side of the box (just past al dente). Strain it–don’t rinse it–and while it’s still warm, stir in whatever dressing you’re using (homemade dressing, of course). That lets the dressing’s flavor seep into the pasta itself. Then, as it starts to cool, stir in everything else–your vegetables, fruit, and herbs–and taste all the way so you know if it needs more salt or vinegar. Some prefer their pasta salad refrigerated (Craig is one of those people) so you may want to pop it into the refrigerator. I was happy to eat mine at room temperature. It was just that tasty.
Here’s my Kitchen Sink Pasta Salad in recipe format. It’s just a roadmap, though; swap out all the “stuff” for whatever you have on hand. Be sure to use some kind of fresh herb, though; it really makes it special.
Kitchen Sink Pasta Salad
Serves 4 to 6
1 box penne or ziti (1 pound)
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup Greek yogurt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (the loose stuff, not the good stuff)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Assorted fruits and vegetables and cheese, chopped:
[I used scallions, fresh mozzarella, a nectarine, celery, cucumber, and red onion. You can play around with this, subbing in: fennel, carrots, shallots, peppers, shaved Brussels sprouts, summer squash, peaches, plums, radishes. Anything that you find at the farmer’s market.]
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup chopped parsley and dill
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; season aggressively with salt.
2. Drop in your pasta and cook for the amount of time specified on the side of the box. In the last 30 seconds or so, start tasting the pasta (run a single ziti under cold water and taste it). If it’s totally cooked through but still somewhat toothsome, it’s ready. Strain into a colander.
3. With a whisk, combine the yogurt, olive oil, balsamic and salt and pepper to taste.
(It’s important to taste here and also to adjust the consistency. If it’s too thick but tastes great, try drizzling in a little warm water just to thin it out.)
4. When the pasta has cooled for a few minutes in the colander but is still warm, shake out all the water and add the pasta to the bowl. Pour in some of the dressing and stir it all around, adding enough to coat the pasta and to make it flavorful. Use more dressing than you think you need because that dressing will also dress the vegetables.
5. Now add all those chopped vegetables:
Stir those in and then add the herbs:
Give a final stir and taste, taste, taste. It should taste fantastic. Doesn’t it look fantastic?
And that’s what happens when you use up everything in your fridge in a moment of inspiration.