Some food, some drink.
Ridiculously simple pasta salad for impromptu potlucks
As it is with even the best of planners, sometimes things just don't click, and you need to come bearing food for an event you forgot to (or really hadn't) plan(ned) for. No one likes to be that jerk that brings a token bottle of soda and bag of chips to a potluck and/or picnic. With just a few pantry staples you can save your rep and quickly bring together a quality deli-style pasta salad that will keep you off the a-hole list.
When I worked a nine-to-five, our office loved potluck lunches. The first time one snuck up on me, I was scrambling the evening before to get something together. Yeah, I could have ran to the store and picked up something packaged, but that really defeats the purpose of a potluck, and unless folks have sampled your cooking prior and specifically requested that you not cook (cringe), I think it's really just good manners to bring something you've made yourself. On the aforementioned occasion, after a quick evaluation of the pantry, I spied a bag of rainbow rotini and decided on throwing together a pasta salad. The result exceeded expectations, and in the eight or nine years since the original event transpired, I've tweaked this dish to make it easy enough that you only really need to keep a half-dozen or so staples on-hand to ensure that you're never caught off-guard when it's time to cook for that next lunch social.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
Cook pasta in liberally-salted water for 7ish minutes until just al dente. Add frozen vegetables to the water and then drain and rinse with cold water until room temperature. Reserve 1/3 cup of dressing and add the remaining majority to the pasta/veg mix. Stir in Parm, olives, and pepperoncini; lid and refrigerate for at least 3 hours (overnight would be much better). When ready to serve, stir in tomatoes if desired, and adjust flavor with reserved dressing.
- If you do not take the opportunity to salt your pasta water, then suffer the quality of your salad will. A good rule of thumb is approximately a tablespoon of Kosher per quart of water. Do NOT add oil; not only is that pasta taboo, but there will be plenty of lube once the dressing is added.
- Speaking of oil, you can use fat-free dressing if you must, but realize that you'll probably end up adding a splash of olive oil before serving to make it right.
- If you're not keen on packaged frozen veggie blend, fresh veggies cut to approximately one-half inch thick may be blanched for the same duration as what it takes to cook the pasta.
- One tablespoon of that Parmesan-type stuff in the can will work on lieu of two tablespoons of microplaned Parm from the wedge. Btw, this is one of the few times that I would actually advocate using said “cheese”.
- The reserved 1/3 cup of salad dressing is insurance. Stir your salad before serving to determine whether more dressing is needed to freshen-up the pasta. Incidentally, I like a tablespoon of the vinegar that the pepperoncini are packed in to boot.
- If you're adding a water-laden or easily-bruised garnish like tomatoes, add 'em as late as possible to avoid undesirable textures.
The point of potlucks and picnics are to bring folks together via the food. Anyone that eats dinner with their family <social commentary>sans-television; which should be every last one of you</social commentary> knows that people that can sit down and eat together are more likely going to get along better in the long-run. What better ice-breaker is there than to talk about what everyone happens to be shoving in their mouth presently?
This pasta salad is uber-freakin' simple to make as it relies on judiciously-used packaged food, but there are plenty of whole ingredients in there that give it a presence of thoughtfulness at the chow line. It also contains readily-visible ingredients that the finicky folks can pick out, keeps the vegetarians happy, and is derived from a recipe that is make-from-memory simple; which is good because folks are going to ask you how you made it after their second helping.