In college and for a couple of years after, I used to make and eat pasta salad fairly often. As my palate and recipe collection grew, I stopped making it. I think I thought of pasta salad as a kind of unhealthy thing to have around to eat for lunch.
Then, one day this summer, I wanted to cook lunch for a boat trip. I went to the farmers market and got a bunch of veggies and came home to figure out what to make. For some reason, pasta salad was calling my name. So, I decided to make a dish that both satisfied my craving for pasta salad while at the same time offering something a little healthier than the versions I had made growing up.
For me, that meant making sure the ratio of pasta and veggies was closer to half and half, erring on the side of having almost more veggies than pasta. The result? A winning dish that you can make ahead, that only gets better with time and that is meant to be consumed room temperature or a little chilled so it is perfect for a picnic or summer lunch outdoors.
I have now made this recipe, or a similar version, on three separate occasions this summer. For those of you who know my aversion to repeating dishes more than even a couple of times a year, this could be a bit shocking. It has just really satisfied a craving for using fresh ingredients, while offering a dish I can make ahead that works really well eaten in hot weather.
There are a few tricks I think make this pasta salad better than other recipes I have tried in the past. First, please, please take the time to use fresh peas and fresh corn cut off the cob. They will taste so much better than anything you can buy canned or frozen. Secondly, don’t precook these two items. The steam from the hot pasta and pasta water do the trick perfectly so they aren’t overdone or shriveled up.
A suggestion that you will rarely find me using in my recipes or buying at home very often is bottled salad dressing. While you could make your own version, for some reason (probably the binders that bottle varieties generally contain) the store-bought kind just tastes better with this salad. I have been using one of the brands Lucky’s Market sells that has a reddish tint to it, but any of your favorite will do.
The last sort of “secret” ingredient I have added is a hot sauce I bought from a farmers market in Park City. Unless you are going down there, you won’t be able to buy the exact same one so just find one you like and use as little or as much as you like. The one I have been using is roughly chopped. There is a recipe on www.dishingjh.com for homemade Sriracha that is coarsely blended and would do the trick nicely.
My only other piece of advice is this: I like the veggies as they are in the recipe. None of them get soggy, even after a few days. But, if you prefer a different cheese, feel free to substitute a fresh mozzarella for the feta. If you like olives, they would be good in this dish too.