I love main course salads, especially during the summer. They are cool and easy to prepare. I usually have all the ingredients in my refrigerator and can add any vegetables I have left over from my last trip to the farmer’s market. Antipasto is a traditional Italian appetizer platter full of cured meats, olives, pickled vegetables, cheeses and breads. I have incorporated those ingredients and I changed the spelling to amuse myself! This Italian pasta salad is full of big, bold flavors and can be ready in less than 30 minutes. With pasta, salami, garlic, and zucchini, it doesn’t get much more Italian than this!
I like to add everything in the refrigerator to my entree salads. Cubed cheeses, chopped vegetables, croutons, cubed or sliced meats, lettuces, cabbage, toasted nuts, just about anything you can imagine can go into a salad. Adding a few fresh herbs really adds a fresh note to the flavors and makes it taste like something a high-end restaurant would serve. When you first get home from the farmer’s market, take a few minutes to wash your produce and dry it. Then when you want to make dinner, it is already cleaned and ready to go. Never store tomatoes in the refrigerator if you can help it. The cold drastically reduces the flavor and the texture can be compromised.
You don’t have to make the dressing from scratch, but I recommend it. It just tastes so much better! But there are many good quality dressings for sale in the stores now, so feel free to use your favorite for this recipe if you like. One of my favorites is Newman’s Own Light Balsamic Vinaigrette. It is excellent on salads like this or as a marinade.
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
Set up a bowl by your cutting board and as you cut vegetables, toss them into the bowl. This keeps your cutting board clear and reduces the risk of cutting yourself. As always, keeping your knives razor-sharp also reduces injuries. The less pressure you have to place on the blade, the less likely it is to slip and cut something other than the vegetables!
Homemade croutons are so easy to make and taste far better than any you can buy at the store. They are an excellent way to use up slightly stale bread. To make them, preheat the oven to 350°F. Slice and remove crusts. Cut into evenly sized cubes. Place in a mixing bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Toss quickly and thoroughly to distribute the oil. Spread on a baking sheet, sprinkle with a little salt and grated Parmesan cheese if you like, and bake for 5 to 10 minutes, tossing halfway through, or until lightly golden and toasted. When cool, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Antipasta Pasta Salad
Jane Evans Bonacci © 2001
Yield: about 8 servings
Creamy Italian Dressing
2 tsp dried oregano leaves
2 tsp dried basil leaves
1 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tsp minced fresh garlic
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 small red onion, peeled, halved, & sliced thinly
1/4 cup Marinated artichoke hearts, drained & chopped
1 small zucchini, sliced thinly
2 carrots, shredded
1 cup small cubes of Monterey Jack, Havarti, or crumbled Feta cheese
2 Pepperoncini peppers, drained, stems removes & chopped
1/2 cup Garbanzo beans, rinsed & drained
3 oz sliced salami, cut into thin strips
2 tbsp sliced marinated olives
3 tbsp finely chopped roasted red bell peppers
1 cup cherry tomatoes, stems removed & halved or quartered
4 to 5 large fresh basil leaves, cut chiffonade
8 oz dried Fusilli pasta, cooked until al dente in well-salted water & drained
3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a medium bowl, combine the oregano, basil, thyme, garlic, and vinegar. Let sit 3 minutes. Whisk in mayonnaise until smooth and then slowly whisk in olive oil. Stir in Parmesan. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Store in refrigerator. Can be made up to 3 days ahead.
In a small bowl, place sliced onions in water with ice cubes. Let sit 30 minutes. This helps remove some of the sharpness and heat of the raw onions. Drain and pat dry with paper towels.
In a large salad bowl, combine all remaining ingredients, tossing to blend. Add 1/3 cup of the dressing and toss again. Add more dressing if desired. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Pass additional Parmesan cheese at the table.
Store, covered, in the refrigerator. Don’t top with croutons until ready to serve. For a pretty presentation, line individual bowls with washed red leaf lettuce and fill with tossed pasta salad. Garnish with a sprig of fresh basil.