Lazy Summer Dinner (part 2 of a series)
I have been making this pasta salad for almost ten years. This is not because it is particularly fancy, or more delicious than anything else on earth, or anything like that. No, this is a recipe I make because it’s easy as hell, and I’ve got it memorized. It’s flexible and forgiving, it can be served hot or cold, and it’s popular at picnics. Also, it takes 2 minutes (10 if you count pasta boiling time). For
me, it is THE pasta salad, the one I turn to when I’m not sure what to make, the one that is universally popular. Mercifully, it is not swimming in oil or supermarket Italian dressing or mayonnaise, like so many pasta salads are.
This isn’t necessarily the thing you’ll present on your finest china when your boss comes over for dinner, but really, when does that happen anymore? Isn’t it way more likely that you have a couple of friends and their kids over to eat something fun and fresh and then sit on the back porch and drink wine? This is perfect for that.
Lemon feta pasta salad
1 bag of arugula (my favorite) or baby spinach, roughly chopped
1 pint of grape tomatoes
4-6 oz feta, crumbled
1-lb box of short tubular pasta (I use Barilla plus penne)
1. Boil water and cook pasta according to package directions.
2. While pasta is cooking, in a large bowl whisk the juice of 1 lemon and a couple of glugs (1-2 Tbsp) olive oil with a generous pinch of salt, and maybe a tiny pinch of sugar. Stick your finger in to taste it. I like mine pretty tart, so I’ll often add the juice of another half lemon and another glug of oil. (The first few times you do this, you may want to mix the dressing in a separate bowl so in case you end up with way too much dressing you can control how much goes over the pasta in the end, but I just do it in the bowl in which I’ll eventually be tossing the pasta with the other ingredients.)
3. BEFORE YOU DRAIN THE PASTA, stick a glass or a measuring cup in there and skim off a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid. Drizzle a little (not all of it) into the dressing and taste for acid balance/seasoning. Add more oil, lemon, salt, or water as you see fit. Best to start with the dressing a little on the tart side- you can always add some more oil to the finished dish if need be. Reserve the remaining skimmed pasta water.
4. Drain pasta and immediately return to a bowl and toss with dressing. While pasta is still warm, throw in the arugula or spinach-the heat will help it wilt. Toss vigorously for a few seconds to aid with wilting, then toss in the tomatoes and the crumbled feta. The feta will ideally melt a tiny bit and add to the sauciness of the whole thing, but if it still tastes a little dry, drizzle in some more
of the pasta cooking water.
5. Serve at warm room temperature, or refrigerate and serve cool.
Notes and tips:
* I really, really strongly prefer hand-crumbled feta- like the kind you buy in a block and then chop or crumble yourself- over the pre-crumbled stuff you get in plastic tubs. The stuff in tubs is gritty and dry, and just not as delicious. Do yourself a favor and try the block stuff- I know I beat the drum of produce markets and ethnic groceries a lot, but I’ll do it again- it can be had for super cheap at such places. I got a pound for less than $5 at my local produce market last weekend. Compare that to $3.99 for a 4-oz tub of the pre-crumbled stuff.
* If you’re feeling particularly fancy, or have small kids and are worried about choking, you could slice the tomatoes in half. I actually prefer them whole, though, because the salad keeps better for longer if there are no tomato innards oozing into it.
* Fresh lemon juice is a must. Used in this quantity, and with such a prominent flavor in the final dish, the bottled stuff will taste metallic.