Pasta Salad–The Greek

One day I decided that it was time to make a change to my regular pasta salads, which are good salads, but I have been making the same ones for years.  As I stood scanning the contents of the refrigerator, I spied a jar of artichoke hearts.  Yum.  Then my eyes rested on a jar of kalamata olives.  Yum again.  More scanning and a little digging, then ding-ding-ding-ding; I knew what I was going to do.

Pasta Salad–The Greek

This recipe is simply a list of ingredients without specific measurements. It’s the best kind of recipe, right? Oh, wait.  I lied.  The pasta and the dressing have measurements, more or less.

  • 1/2 pound cooked pasta of choice (this is generally 1/2 of a box or package of pasta.  Check the weight on the package in case the one you are using is more or less than one pound.  Make sense?)
  • kalamata olives, sliced lengthwise
  • grape tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise 
  • marinated artichoke hearts, cut into bite-sized pieces (I like the Costco brand)
  • grated parmesan/romano cheese
  • feta cheese crumbles
  • purple onion, chopped
  • banana peppers, thinly sliced (you could use peperoncini, which I did in the featured picture)
  • 1 bottle of your favorite Italian or vinaigrette style salad dressing (I like Bernsteins “Cheese Fantastico”)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta per package directions.  Be careful not to over cook, you don’t want pasta mush.  Rinse your perfectly cooked pasta under cool water and drain well.

Mix all ingredients together. Chill. Serve. 

A note about cooking pasta.  For years I got irritated with the instructions on any cooking show that said that pasta should be cooked “al dente” and then described al dente as meaning “to the teeth”.  What the heck was “to the teeth”?  To further increase my irritation, the cooker person would then pick up a piece of pasta, tilt his/her head back, drop the pasta in their mouth, chew, and pronounce the pasta perfectly cooked.  Seriously.  Watching someone else chew the pasta was really educational.  I mean, I came away knowing exactly what al dente meant.
So, over the years I practiced and practiced trying to figure out al dente.  Maybe I’m slow, years to figure out al dente.
Let’s see if I can explain it.  I’m sure you know what over-cooked and under-cooked pasta are like.  Over-cooked pasta is too hard, it is resistive to easy chewing and will stick to your teeth; maybe sticking to the point that you have to pick it off with your finger.  Under-cooked pasta is mushy.  There is no resistance when you bite it.  If you try to mix it up in, say, a pasta salad it will fall apart.
A well cooked pasta will:
  1. Give a slight resistance when you bite it.  It will be pliable.  You will actually feel like you are chewing something, the pasta will have substance.  Baby bear would love it because it will be just right.
  2. Will not fall apart when mixed with other ingredients.
Use a pot big enough to allow the pasta to move around easily in the water.  Don’t over-crowd the pasta in the pot.  Give it some space.
Salt the water before you add the pasta.  It is during the cooking process that the pasta picks up the salty flavor.
And one more thing– the quality of the pasta makes a difference in the quality of the end product.  I really hated to have to tell you about that, because when you find packages of pasta for like 3 pkgs. for $1.00, it is really tempting to stock up. A good grocery store brand: Barrilla.  Ronzoni is also good.  I have also had good luck with the brand they sell at Costco whose name I cannot now remember and I’m not going downstairs to figure it out. 
If you can ever lay your hands on a high quality, and yes expensive, pasta, then buy it one time just for fun.  You’ll be surprised at the difference.  I finally caved and bought a really good pasta for the salad in this post.  When I first tasted a piece of the fresh cooked pasta, I just kind of stood in my kitchen saying, “Oh.  I see.  To the teeth.”  I cannot afford to always use super high quality pasta, but I will not be using American Beauty ever again.  Not even at 3 packages for $1.00.  Oh gosh, have I become a pasta snob?

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