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25 August 2008

OK, so typing "pasta salad" into a recipe site is like typing "sex" into Google. You get a bazillion results, most of them really icky. I'm trying to make an oil/vinegar based salad, but I have a question.[More:]

I know I just need a couple of teaspoons each of oil and vinegar, but what kind of vinegar would I use for something like this? I am ignorant of such things... somebody help me out.

I'm going to put in it (besides the pasta):

-black olives
-mushroom bits
-bell pepper
-Parmesan cheese
-tuna chunks

(I used to make something like this with one of those prepared Betty Crocker salads, and I'm trying to re-create that without the stroke-inducing amounts of sodium, and with better-quality pasta.)
I use red wine. Plain white will also work, my mom uses that. Add some oregano and stuff to it.
posted by kellydamnit 25 August | 08:18
I use white wine vinegar and olive oil. Try this recipe for the oil and vinegar proportions. It really is perfect. I make this pasta salad all of the time.
posted by LoriFLA 25 August | 08:55
Great! Thanks to you both. I'm hoping to make this to bring in for lunch later this week, so I'll let y'all know how it goes.
posted by BoringPostcards 25 August | 09:05
The two dressings I use for pasta salad are:
Lemon juice:white wine:vinegar olive oil

Usually I use this first in a pasta salad with canned beans.

tomato paste:balsamic vinegar:olive oil

I use this one in a pasta salad with olives.

Mmm. Pasta salad.
posted by crush-onastick 25 August | 09:24
Here is one that my friend Jen makes (recipe by Rachel Ray) with (gasp) bottled dressing. It's good.

Portabella mushroom tortellini - (with fresh pastas)-cooked according to directions
sundried tomatoes
marinated artichoke hearts
fontenella or sharp cheddar cheese
calls for ken's italian dressing & marinade, but I used good seasons classic balsamic vinegrette

posted by LoriFLA 25 August | 10:04
Red wine vinegar for sure. Yuuummmmmmmm.
posted by triggerfinger 25 August | 10:07
Beeps, I usually use a 1:3 vinegar:oil ratio in mine, and I tend to use balsamic or red wine as well.

White wine vinegar might work better with the tuna tho, as it won't overpower it or clash.

My pasta salad recipe leans heavily towards stuff like fresh basil/chives/parsley from the garden, diced portobellos, pitted kalamata olives, feta cheese, fresh grated reggiano parm, artichoke hearts (or palm hearts when I can find them on sale!) and plenty of garlic. The balsamic is pretty powerful, but then with those ingredients it kind of has to be.

I also use Barilla Plus Penne. A little spendy but oh-so-worth-it. It is easier to cook "al dente" for pasta salads, and holds its shape and texture much better. And it just tastes better and is good for you.

Don't forget to add fresh cracked black pepper. Yum!
posted by lonefrontranger 25 August | 10:09
Another vote for red wine vinegar. It has a nice, fruity tang that white wine vin doesn't have, but doesn't become a top note the way balsamic does = so you'll still have the flavors of the olive and tuna at the forefront.

I like to save white wine vinegar for more delicate salads, like something with endive, and often it goes well in a dressing with a tiny bit of mustard as the emulsifier.

And balsamic is wonderful, but powerful, so I tend to pair that with things that have an equally strong/meaty flavor - like lfr's portobellos, soft fresh mozzarella cheese, basil, parm, really ripe tomatoes, really ripe sweet fruit like peaches and strawberries.

1:3 is the classic vin-to-oil ratio. The idea is to smooth and mellow out the acidity of the vinegar. In practice, I sometimes skimp the oil a little to cut the fat, and it doesn't make a huge difference, it's just a little brighter.

Definitely mix the oil and vinegar well together with any seasonings (salt, pepper, garlic, a teeny pinch of sugar maybe) before dressing the salad. Otherwise they don't really emulsify into a smooth dressing that coats evenly - instead you get oily bits and vinegary bits. Sometimes you want that, but in pasta salad usually not (a big biteful of a vinegar soaked pasta piece is a little too tangy!).
posted by Miko 25 August | 10:35
Fresh herbs, good cheese and fresh garlic.
Blend a dressing before hand with a hand blender or a whisk.
It's as simple as olive oil and garlic or as convoluted as everything at your green grocer.
i like using the liquid in a jar of marinated artichoke hearts.
Oils and acids are up to you, vinegar or citrus or what have you.

Pasta is easy and fun, so be easy and have fun.
Save a little pasta water if you need to loosen thing up and use the heat of the cooked pasta to meld flavors.

Cream or tomato? Vinagrette or egg?
Have fun experimenting and if something doesn't work out great, throw cheese on it and bake it in the oven at 400 F.
posted by ethylene 25 August | 11:19
ok, here's what I normally do for reals when I'm not fancy.
1 bottle Newman's Own olive oil and vinegar dressing.
(seriously, it's better than I could make myself)
posted by kellydamnit 25 August | 11:24
OMG I knew I shouldn't have opened this thread before I ate lunch. Now I'm even starvinger.
posted by chewatadistance 25 August | 12:04
Wow, great info and ideas, all!

I'm trying to make more of these because I'm sick of the stuff I've been bringing for lunch, so all the variations/other ideas are great. I'll probably try most of them eventually, since I can eat pasta salad year round (I know some people only like it in the summer).

Thanks, thanks!
posted by BoringPostcards 25 August | 12:07
hold the vinegar, you can control the acidity by using small cherry tomatoes -- lightly bake a few of them to tone down overall acidity, also use some fresh ones -- your acidity will come from there. there really is no need for vinegar, esp if you use bell peppers (I wouldn't)

also, Parmesan vinegar and tuna don't really mix (cheese and fish? cheese and vinegar?)

I'd hold most of the stuff you mention, I'd concentrate on really, really excellent ingredients, and simply use luke warm (from lightly baking with sea salt and ground pepper) but REALLY FRESH cherry tomatoes, a few almost raw ones (blanch them for a few seconds in boiling salt water then dunk in ice water to remove the peels) and really fresh basil and bits of the best mozzarella you can possibly find -- then a few black olives, again not out of a can but fresh, for pasta I'd use fusilli, if you can't find fresh pasta I'd stick with Barilla, their pasta corta is easy to find and very good
posted by matteo 25 August | 12:15
Olive oil comment: sometimes olive oil is too thick on cold salads. You can mix it with canola or some other vegetable oil and it'll still taste good without congealing as much.

Also, make sure your olive oil isn't going rancid. If it doesn't smell 100% tasty, it's probably time to toss it.
posted by small_ruminant 25 August | 12:21
matteo, lots of cheeses go okay with vinegar. I like feta or goat cheese in my salads, and I use vineagrette for them.

Other yummy things for vinegary salads:

blanched green or yellow wax beans
hard boiled egg
red onions (blanch them if you want a milder flavor)

posted by small_ruminant 25 August | 12:26
Parmesan vinegar and tuna don't really mix

Oh, I think they do. I was mainly asking about proportion of oil to vinegar, and what kind of vinegar, since I'm going to do it myself instead of using a pre-made mixture. (Though kelly's "Newman's Own" tip is a good one that I might take.)
posted by BoringPostcards 25 August | 12:33
matteo: also? tomatoes only work for those of you who like them.

Personally I can't stomach them raw, although I like them in salsas and sauces. I understand this is a very common food aversion too.

vinegar and reggiano parm go just great together.

BP, I was going to suggest going with a pre-made dressing since I sometimes do, but I was afraid the food snobs would crucify me. I'm over it now, so I'll say I often use one of the excellent Annie's vinaigrettes premade. They seem to work better, and on preview yeah, OO can get all nasty and congealed after refrigeration.

ethylene's tip to mix it all together hot to meld the flavours is a money tip. I forgot that I do this too, but use it, it's the bomb.
posted by lonefrontranger 25 August | 12:44
more good ingredients:

-artichoke hearts, cut up (just the bottom part. I don't like the leaves)
-red pepper flakes

(and ditto-ing the mixing it up warm)
posted by small_ruminant 25 August | 13:01
Oh, I think they do.

of course you think they do; for the same reason why you also think Paul Newman's bottled condiments are not an abomination. but it's the beauty of pasta, and or pizza -- their strength, really. they have been appropriated by so many cultures that it's all blurry, and "rules" are indeed local at this point. I mean, there are also people who think that "spaghetti and meatballs" is an Italian dish, or that "Pepperoni pizza" means what you think it does (it actually means "bell pepper pizza", with a typo thrown in for non-authenticity)

if you don't like tomatoes -- what about fresh tuna and fresh mint? you can lightly sear the tuna or make a tartare (it's pretty easy)

vinegar and reggiano parm

for Parmigiano Reggiano, Aceto Balsamico di Modena Tradizionale is more or less the only way to go, if you like it -- just don't use the fake balsamic vinegar you find everywhere because it's essentially regular vinegar with sugar.
posted by matteo 25 August | 13:55
Oh nonsense, it's perfectly possible to compose a wonderful salad with fish, cheese, and vinegar in it. A classic Nicoise contains both fish and vinegar, and sometimes a shaving of parmesan, althoug that's more unusual. I've had a wonderful traditional Greek salad involving shrimp, roasted tomatoes, and feta with oregano, olive oil, and vinegar.

Whether or not you like it is, of course, your preference, but you're not breaking any laws with the combination. Your preparation with tomatoes sounds good, matteo, but I for one don't think you always get the acidity you're looking for just from tomatoes, particularly after they're roasted, when they're caramelized and full of dark sugary flavors. And I agree that there is a world of difference between decent balsamico and cheap - but on the other hand, the flavor of cheap balsamic can be enjoyed for its own qualities, and can be used in marinades and dressings more comfortable, since those often call for quantities that one would hesitate to waste a $70 bottle of the real stuff on. I save the good stuff for drizzling when you can really taste it.

I don't like bottled dressings because of the salt, the processed ingredients, and usually the flavor balance. Making dressing yourself is so easy, and so easy to vary and change with just a few modifications, that there seems no point to it.
posted by Miko 25 August | 14:04
Oh nonsense, it's perfectly possible to compose a wonderful salad with fish, cheese, and vinegar in it.

well, I know this guy who loves -- loves -- peanut butter, chunky, in his tuna fish sammich. as I said, rules are made to be broken. it all depends if one breaks them intelligently or not. case in question: pasta fredda is more often than not made with pasta corta, for obvious reasons, but none other than Gualtiero Marchesi has demonstrated that spaghetti freddi can work beautifully (he is of course a superhuman culinary genius, unlike us petty humans)

It's very easily translatable online

re: the cherry tomatoes, try not to heat up the oven too much, bake them for less than 20 minutes, and maybe leave a small water pot in the oven, not to dry them up too much. salt helps, too.

a $70 bottle of the real stuff

please tell me where you find it that cheap because 100 ml. (what's that, 3 ounces?) of the real stuff costs me almost 70 euros
posted by matteo 25 August | 14:21
A classic Nicoise contains both fish and vinegar, and sometimes a shaving of parmesan, althoug that's more unusual.

yeah but it contains no pasta. it's a salad. just because you say "pasta salad" it doesn't mean the rules are different, it's a pasta dish -- all that starch. up above, we were talking about making pasta fredda, not salads.

Of course vinaigrette for your salade niçoise actually contains a little vinegar together with the olive oil, Moutarde de Dijon, pepper, etc -- but I'd love to see a Frenchman react to the hypothesis that Parmigiano Reggiano is "sometimes" part of the recipe. that's why FoxNews thinks they're anti-American, because Bill O'Reilly must have to tried to add Parmigiano in his Niçoise. that's pretty much the "spaghetti and meatballs" issue (Anthony Bourdain once made this hilarious skit about making spaghetti and meatballs for actual Italians -- it was the Tuscany episode, you should check it out I'm sure it's on YouTube, it was played for shits and giggles but it had a kernel of truth)

as I said, it's cool to tinker with stuff, but usually most rules are there for a reason -- flavor balance, etc.
posted by matteo 25 August | 14:37
Except for ranch dressing, I've never had a tasty bottled dressing. They all taste... bottled.

The ranch exception is probably just because I've never learned to make my own ranch dressing so I don't have a comparison.
posted by small_ruminant 25 August | 14:37
it doesn't mean the rules aren't different
posted by matteo 25 August | 14:44
as I said, rules are made to be broken. it all depends if one breaks them intelligently or not.

No. It depends on whether one likes the results. Whether you approve, or whether your mouth is watering, is entirely immaterial.
posted by mudpuppie 25 August | 14:59
of course you think they do; for the same reason why you also think Paul Newman's bottled condiments are not an abomination.

And that reason is...?

Thanks again, to those who answered my questions. I just got home with my ingredients! I may make this tonight for tomorrow's lunch. Whenever I do it, I'll post a review of the results. :)
posted by BoringPostcards 25 August | 15:05
Make the pasta; I like spirals. Drain.
Add frozen peas. Cools the pasta and lightly cooks peas.
Add black olives, onion, arugula, artichokes, broccoli, shrooms, tomaters, spinach, any veggies you like, and some garlic.
Dressing: 1:1 mayonnaise & vinegar
Add plenty of pepper, salt to taste, and some herbs. Fresh herbs are really nice, dried oregano or Italian herbs work.
Toss well.
If you're making this to take to lunch, you can try lots of veggie combinations, with or without tuna, cheese, etc. It's research!
Balsamic vinegar makes pasta salad a funny color. You might like it, who knows.
posted by theora55 25 August | 16:08
No. It depends on whether one likes the results.

unlike, say, speaking German -- no one thinks they can speak German unless they've actually studied it -- everybody thinks they know about food -- because they have mouths. which is a bit like saying that you know about music because you have ears.

and hence, it's OK to argue that three ripping farts sound as good as -- or better than -- Mozart's Jupiter.

with a better culture of food -- quality vs quantity, flavor, fresh ingredients, etc -- we'd also have so many less diabetic, fat people with high blood pressure who'll be in a wheelchair (or dead) by the time they're 50. that is quite not "immaterial", sadly.

please pretend it's all a matter of opinion, and of anyway fuck those snooty foodies we all dislike (I do, too, I just think food is serious business).

I may make this tonight for tomorrow's lunch

if you dress it tomorrow morning instead of tonight, it'll taste better.

And that reason is...?

posted by matteo 25 August | 17:37
I love my pasta salad. It's my favorite thing I make ever.

I use: olive oil, lemon juice (4 to 1), kosher salt, pepper, a tiny drop of dijon to emulsify. (I hate the way vinegars taste in pasta salad.)

Since I think the addition of an acid is too acidic, I add in corn I've scraped from the cob and steamed green beans to sweeten it. Also, either cherry or paste tomatoes, and bocconcini (and hell, if that's wrong, I don't want to be right).
posted by birdie 25 August | 17:48
Oops, forgot the crushed garlic in the dressing. Maybe half a large clove, one whole medium one.
posted by birdie 25 August | 18:05
with a better culture of food -- quality vs quantity, flavor, fresh ingredients, etc -- we'd also have so many less diabetic, fat people with high blood pressure who'll be in a wheelchair (or dead) by the time they're 50. that is quite not "immaterial", sadly.

Agreed. And no one here has argued any differently. People did say, however, that the combination of tuna and parmesan sounds perfectly palatable to them, and that they don't mind using bottled salad dressings. And you went off on a tangent about food "rules" and the abomination of bottled salad dressings and speaking German and flatulence. I mean, come on.

Tuna and peanut butter doesn't sound at all good to me, but I'm not going to challenge anyone else's right to eat it. And I'm certainly not going to maintain that someone who enjoys the combination of tuna and peanut butter is bringing down the culture.

You go into a great restaurant -- insert the famous fancy restaurant of your choice here, because I'm not about to name the wrong one at random that would then provide fodder for a further derail -- and you ask for tuna and peanut butter? That's really pretty low-class. You should not be in that restaurant. Go to the Met for a performance of Mozart's Jupiter and fart along to the tune? Yeah, sleazy. You should not be at the Met.

Enjoy tuna and peanut butter as a late night snack? Put tuna and parmesan in your pasta salad? Can you really equate those things with the others above? If so, you're either really narrow or you're being intentionally trollish and belligerent. I know where my money is.

This thread, matteo, was a request for pasta salad recipes that people like. There's no reason to tell people that they shouldn't like what they do. We're not canonizing or codifying anything here. The salad that BoPo ends up taking in his lunch will not have any long-term effect on obesity rates, restaurant trends, economics, world hunger, or world peace.

The dude just wanted recommendations for a fucking recipe.
posted by mudpuppie 25 August | 18:29
Oh, and BP, I find that when I search for recipes, I try to find people that make stuff I like. Only way to do that is to cook stuff of course, but the more you cook, the more you can look at a recipe and figure on how good it's going to be. I really like Mark Bittman since he also tends to go with simple. (though I have to say, the tomato jam was horrible to me. It didn't taste bad, but it's TOO SWEET, and I'm a savory kind of guy. My own fault. Plus lemon juice would have been better than lime I think...)

And, having worked as a winemaker, and have been around wine and food my whole life since growing up in the Alice Waters culture of Northern California, I completely agree with mudpuppie. There are so many pedants like matteo who insist what they say is gospel. If someone likes cheese and vinegar, so what? I saw it all the time when I was in the wine business, and it seems their main goal is to prove their superiority. I would get asked a lot by friends and family what wine they should serve with a dinner, and I always started by asking "what do you like?" Because, in the end, I could recommend the perfect wine/food pairing, but if the person doesn't like the wine, what's the point?

Certainly there are classic combinations that always work, like tomato and fresh basil, but then there are people who don't like tomato or basil. But, there's also nothing wrong with pairing things together if you like them, and are the only one. Like, peanut butter and tuna. Food, wine, art, music, and culture ultimately are consuming what you enjoy. Some people like Garfield, others like Zippy the Pinhead. Neither one is wrong, and it's not for us to judge them for their choice.
posted by eekacat 25 August | 20:53
the tomato jam was horrible to me

Dude. I made it this weekend too. I didn't mind the sweetness -- I was expecting it -- and I liked the heat from the two serranos that I used. But I hate-hate-hated the cumin. With the other spices alone, it would have been okay. Different, but okay -- like a fig jam, but with tomatoes. The cumin, though, made it taste like a really sweet, spreadable Texas chili. Ugh.

You failed me, Bittman! *shakes fist*
posted by mudpuppie 25 August | 22:46
OK, so I brought my first home-made pasta salad to work today, and it was pretty darn good. I ended up using white wine vinegar and oil, plus a bunch of Italian seasoning mix and salt and pepper (and the pinch of sugar, per Miko). Perfect! Black olives, mushrooms, roasted red bell peppers, mushrooms, and of course, tuna. Topped with lots of parmesan. The only thing I did wrong was not adding ENOUGH oil and vinegar... it dried out a bit before lunchtime, but was still decent. I'm just going to up the amount of dressing a little bit next time.

Thanks for all your suggestions, and I'll probably try a couple of variations on this in coming weeks.
posted by BoringPostcards 26 August | 12:10
Heh, mudpuppie, I guess it failed us both, but for different reasons. I too enjoyed the heat etc. but it was an epic fail. Pretty rare from Bittman in combination with my own ability to parse recipes. Ah well, lesson learned. Thing is, I love a good basil jelly, and that's sweet... Just wasn't meant to be I guess.

Ohhh, and BP. Pasta can seriously soak up dressing and stuff. You might consider a separate container for dressing if you're not going to eat it right away. Like, dress it when you make it, but then withhold some dressing to add later when you eat it. Just a suggestion to try rather than getting the pasta all soggy...
posted by eekacat 26 August | 22:05
I seem to have stopped being an ethical consumer || Calling all US bunnies who have done backpacking in Europe: