The “End of the Month & We’re Broke” Pot-luck Pasta Salad

So last Wednesday at choir rehearsal I was reminded that, today being the end of our season, we have our annual choir send-off party and pot-luck. This was a bit of an embarrassment, since I’ve pretty much spent the grocery budget and, if Cassie and I are to survive until the end of the month without going in the hole, I can’t make a run on Costco or Safeway to buy a bunch of stuff to make a fancy pot-luck dish. We’re already cleaning out the freezer one bite at a time.

I scribbled down “some kind of pasta” on the sign-up list and ran away.

Hot dishes are problematic, because it’s hard for a single person to get the stuff to the church without having it spill all over the car or be stone cold by the time we’re ready to eat. So I decided the “some kind of pasta” would have to be a package of Costco penne (thank God for Costco’s lifetime supplies of everything!) into which I would dump a little of anything in the house that even faintly resembled salad makings and then would chill until dinnertime. Thus:

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It actually turned out looking kinda pretty — well, at least not revolting — and tasting pretty good.

To reproduce (more or less), spin off this general theory:

Cook up a bunch of whatever kind of pasta you have in the house. Ain’t got no pasta? You can substitute cooked beans, hominy, or cut-up pieces of bread, or any combination thereof. Dress the starchy stuff with a good vinaigrette (recipe follows) and start adding whatever you can find in the fridge, freezer, and garden.

Vinaigrette dressing:

Squeeze a juicy lemon. If your lemons are not very juicy, squeeze two of them. Pick out the seeds and toss those. If you don’t have lemons, use about 1/8 cup of vinegar (any kind; use more if you’re making something vast). Add olive oil: about three parts oil to one part lemon or vinegar. Whisk together with a fork. Taste. Add oil or more lemon/vinegar to taste. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add dried herbs (such as tarragon, thyme, fines herbes, herbes de provence, parsley, summer savory, or whatever you have around) to taste.

Addenda for the pasta:

frozen peas (if this is going to sit in the fridge for a while, no need to defrost them –  just toss in a handful or two or three)
carrots, diced or chopped in small pieces
green onions, sliced or minced
garlic, finely minced
bell pepper, chopped (I used those tiny new sweet peppers that come in bags)
olives, pitted
cucumber (I had about a third of a cuke left)
walnuts, chopped
basil, chopped (or whatever else is in the garden…parsley would be nice)
tomato, chopped
feta cheese (parmesan would work, too

Toss these things (or whatever you happen to have on hand) into the dressed pasta, stirring between additions. Top the salad with another sprinkling of cheese, and chill until ready to eat. This is one of those dishes that improve with time, so have no fear about preparing it hours or even a day ahead.

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