Saturday, January 19, 2008

Simple Pasta Salad

Many years ago, I traveled to the Cape with my aunt Marcy to see my Grand Auntie Phyllis' family. I don't remember much of our short visit except that I returned home with the recipe for a pasta salad that we soon named after my cousin, Kristina, who had prepared the salad for us during our visit. That summer and for many summers that followed, we prepared this salad often — it's particularly good warm, when the just-boiled shells melt the cheese and soak up all the flavors of the olive oil and lemon juice. I don't have the recipe, and my mother is not home to read me the original, but I believe this combination closely resembles Kristina's. Feta may have been used in place of mozzarella, and there may have been some other subtle differences, but this is the basic idea.

Though best when warm, this salad can also be prepared ahead and served at room temperature. This is just one of many recipes introduced to the family by Kristina that I have been meaning to make for months. I am dying to have a full kitchen so I can actually bake something. I will not let another winter pass, even if the weather never drops below 70º, without making Kristina's molasses cookies. Thanks for all the yummy recipes Kristina!
Kristina's Pasta Salad
Serves 6 to 8 as a side

1 lb. shells
½ cup pine nuts
1 pint grape tomatoes
1 bunch scallions
3 roasted red peppers (see recipe below or used jarred)
2 balls (large size) fresh mozzarella
1 bunch basil
olive oil
kosher salt
fresh cracked pepper
1 lemon
freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta. Cook about 8 minutes or until done but not mushy. Drain and set aside. Note: If you are going to prepare this salad ahead of time, rinse the pasta off and add the remaining ingredients once the pasta is completely cooled.

Meanwhile, place pine nuts in a small skillet over low heat. Toast, stirring often to avoid burning. Remove from heat when evenly golden brown. Set aside.

Cut grape tomatoes in half lengthwise. Remove ends from scallions and discard. Chop thinly, using only the white and pale green parts. Chop the roasted red peppers into small strips. Cut the mozzarella into cubes about the same size as the cherry tomatoes. Set aside.

Place pasta in a large bowl. Drizzle olive oil over pasta until nicely coated. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add all of the prepared ingredients. Remove tiny leaves from basil stems and add directly to the bowl. Stack four to five larger basil leaves on top of one another. Roll into a tight spiral, then cut into thin strips. Add to the bowl. Squeeze the lemon over the top of the whole mixture. Add a few handfuls of the grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Toss gently with a large spoon. Taste, add more salt, pepper, olive oil or lemon juice if necessary.
Roasted Red Peppers

peppers (as many as you need, 3 for this recipe)

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Line a baking sheet with foil. Drizzle a tiny amount of oil on foil. Slice peppers in half lengthwise, remove stem and seeds, and place cut side down onto a baking sheet.

Roast for 20-30 minutes or until almost completely charred. Place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 20 minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove blistered, charred skin. Use as needed.