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Pasta salads still potluck pleasers

My cooking recently received some kudos at potlucks.

The biggest crowd pleaser was a key lime bar I adapted from a 2020 blog post and also recommended in a recent podcast. But before that, I fielded some surprising compliments for a pasta salad that was conceptual, freeform and pulled together at the last possible second.

The venue for preparing this pasta salad was an outdoor kitchen at an off-the-grid community in Josephine County. The propane burners in this kitchen infamously are underpowered for boiling kettles of water in the quantity needed to cook for up to 20 people. Despite giving the water a half-hour head start, I was biding my time for much too long before I could finally dump in the pasta, jog to the garden, pick a few herbs and return to drain the pot.

The ingredients, fortunately, were minimal. I shredded a sweet onion and carrot, tossed that with mayonnaise and plain yogurt barely seasoned with curry powder, then stirred in a good half cup of freshly chopped dill, chives, mint and basil with the cooked ditalini.

Such a basic recipe is a great companion, it turns out, to grilled chicken and tofu, sweet potato fries and green salad. Finishing the meal with key lime bars and fresh blueberries grown on the land sated this already very satisfied group.

Now that tomatoes and cucumbers are coming on strong, they deserve their place in a Greek-inspired pasta salad that’s become a staple of some delis. The fresh ingredients contrast with the cured olives and salty feta in a ratio upheld in some of my blog posts and podcasts.

Good pasta salads always need some freshly chopped or sliced produce. If everything is cooked, cured, jarred, canned or otherwise preserved, the flavors become muddied. While this recipe calls for fresh oregano, the quantity certainly could be shared with some fresh basil.

Tribune News Service photo

Pasta Salad With Olives and Feta

2 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon plus 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 pound pasta, small tubes or shells

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

3/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives

2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced

1 large red onion, peeled and diced

3 small (pickling) cucumbers or 1 regular cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced

2 bunches oregano, leaves only, chopped

Pepper, to taste

Fill a large bowl with ice and water, and set aside.

Bring 1 gallon water to a rolling boil in a large stockpot. Add the salt, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and the pasta; cook until al dente, according to package directions. Drain in a colander and immediately transfer to bowl of ice water to cool. Drain well, transfer to another bowl and toss with remaining 1/4 cup olive oil.

Mix all remaining ingredients in a bowl. Toss with pasta, adjust seasonings with pepper and more salt to taste; serve. Makes 8 servings.

Recipe adapted by Tribune News Service from “City Cuisine” by Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken.