Pasta Salad

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Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time while my wife and I were still at college, we were invited to a large potluck event at our church ward. In the weeks prior, we committed to bringing some type of salad, and didn't remember until the day of the potluck. As you can imagine, once we realized this we were frantic to figure out what type of salad we could bring without having to go to the grocery store to get things.

Our apartment was completely devoid of any type of green for a typical lettuce-based salad, but we did have a couple half boxes of pasta. So pasta salad it was. I called my parents and asked if they had any suggestions, which they did not, other than looking online. I didn't know who else I could ask, so an online search it was.

We decided that we wanted to do something a little different, that people would not have had often. Needless to say, after an hour of searching we didn't find any one recipe we liked, so we decided to improvise with what we had at home.

The following pasta salad is deliciously fresh tasting, and tastes amazing. It has become one of our new recipe standards for barbecues and family parties.
Skip the tutorial and go straight to the recipe.

Step 1:

Cook 1 pound tri-color rotini pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse briefly with cold water. Dump into a large bowl and set aside.
If you don't ever use this recipe or anything else from it, please learn this one tip and use it every time you cook pasta: SALT YOUR WATER!! I don't care how good your dressing is, or how fresh or expensive the rest of your ingredients are; nothing can cover up the flavor of unsalted pasta. Try an experiment if you don't believe me. Cook 1/2 a box of pasta in unsalted water and the rest of the box in salted water, then compare the flavor. And then, resolve to always salt your pasta water.

Step 2:

Cut the stems off of 1 small head of broccoli and cut the florets into small pieces.

Step 3:

Peel, then shred 3 small to medium carrots, enough to yield about 1 cup.

Step 4:

Dice either 1 small or 1/2 of a larger green or red bell pepper.

Step 5:

Dice enough red onion to yield 1/4 cup.
I am of the opinion that red onions are superior in the raw salad application because their flavor is a little milder, and slightly sweeter than yellow or white onions. I also like the little amount of color the red onions contribute to the salad.

Step 6:

Cut about 5 oz of grape tomatoes in half, yielding about a cup of cut tomatoes.
You can use whatever type of tomatoes you want, really, and I know that grape tomatoes are more expensive than other tomatoes, but I would suggest that you spring for the grape variety. They are the perfect size when cut in half, and they are sweet without being too acidic, like other small tomatoes.

Step 7:

Slice or quarter enough black olives to give you about 1/2 cup.
Don't all the ingredients look pretty together? I really like having such a color contrast, which is also the reason why I use tri-color pasta as opposed to regular pasta. I feel that pasta salad should be colorful, so use the brightest colored veggies and tomatoes you can find.

Step 8:

Cut cheddar cheese into 1/4-inch cubes until you have 1/2 cup or so.
I prefer cheddar here, but any type of cheese would work, I guess. Try to stick to cheeses that are somewhat mild in flavor so that they don't overpower your salad. Some mozzarella wouldn't be amiss either.

Step 9:

Combine all the veggies, chesse, and pasta in a large bowl, along with 1 cup Italian dressing. Toss gently to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour, but longer would be nice too.
Use whatever brand and type of Italian dressing you like, or maybe even tasty vinaigrette. I really like the Great Value Italian House dressing, but whatever strikes your fancy is okay. Most of the flavor of this salad comes from the variety of the vegetable components, and the salad is tasty without dressing too. But I guess adding the dressing just helps all the flavors present to marry and blend, so make sure to allow the salad to marinate for a while.

Summer Pasta Salad:
1 Pound tricolor pasta
1 Small head broccoli, cut into small pieces
3 Small carrots, shredded
1/2 bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup black olives, quartered or sliced
1/2 cup Cheddar cheese, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1 cup Italian dressing

Cook pasta according to package directions, leave slightly al dente. Drain, rinse with cold water, and put in large bowl. Combine all other ingredients in the bowl and toss gently to combine. Cover and let marinate for at least an hour, up to overnight.

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