It finally happened — the sun came out and it broke 60°F this week. And for some reason, that’s made me unable to stop making pasta salad, or any picnic-ready salads for that matter.
Like everyone else on the internet, I feel like I was reborn this week. The weather was warm and I tried, as much as my schedule would allow, to soak up every second — rollerblading with my boyfriend on our lunch break, reading books in the driveway after work and making food that is meant to be eaten outside.
Seasonal depression is real, but sometimes I don’t realize how much it affects me until the sun returns after a long time away. Where I live, in peak winter, it gets dark at 4 p.m., sometimes even earlier. The frost seems to not break for a good 5-6 months at all and I am an absolute homebody.
This year was even worse, because of the coronavirus pandemic keeping me inside and unable to find my typical escapes, like bowling alleys and indoor dinner parties. I think everyone, even people who haven’t experienced SAD before, was really feeling the winter blues.
And then it happened — there were blue skies and I didn’t know how to act. For the first time in months, I put on, like, an actual outfit that wasn’t leggings/sweatpants (I am so thankful for the work from home life) and bought coronas to drink outside. My boyfriend and I rationalized spending way too much on Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream pints to devour while sitting at the beach (FINALLY!!!). And the only way I can explain it was that we were just drunk on all of the sunshine.
When the sun goes down at night and I’m back in my bedroom, I’ve been revealing in the shared joy everyone else in my boat has been tweeting about and so on. I laugh every time I see tweets about the “roaring 20s” and how no one is about to know how to act this summer. Like I said, this year is different from the pandemic and as widespread vaccinations are becoming more promising, it actually seems like we might be able to have some semblance of a real summer. And for the first time in awhile, people seem to be more hopeful in general.
So with that hope, I absentmindedly began making pasta salad and anything else that screamed summer. I made so much tortellini with mozzarella and salami, mixed in some veggies for good measure and doused the whole thing in some jacked-up version of Olive Garden dressing that my household devoured in a day. I made Greek-inspired orzo salad with olives and way too much lemon juice. I brought out my mini cast iron pan to fancy up some canned corn (another peak of summer for this Ohio-born girl is sweet corn on the cob in masses) for a spicy salad with honey-lime dressing. I’m sick of soups and stews and hearty meals. Now, all I want to cook is anything that will sit in my fridge for days so when I’m hungry and the sun decides to randomly show it’s face, I can eat it straight out of the Tupperware while standing on the back porch, basking it all in.
If you’re a North-easterner like me, you know this isn’t the end of cold days, and the dreaded snow plows might even rear their ugly heads again one last time before school is actually out for summer. But until then, make pasta salad to keep in the fridge, just in case.
Everyone’s favorite tortellini pasta salad
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve made this for picnics, parties and every time it’s devoured by everyone. It’s just a crowd pleaser. I included a recipe for a dressing I made this week that I loved, but in a pinch I use a bottle of Olive Garden Italian dressing because you can’t go wrong with that.
2 packages of tortellini, any kind
1 pint of cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 pack of small mozzarella cheese balls (or one large ball cut in small cubes)
1 cucumber, diced
½ red onion, sliced
¼ pound of thick-cut hard salami, cut into cubes
1 bunch of fresh parsley
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup nonfat plain greek yogurt
2 tablespoons of sweet pepper relish
1 tsp. Dijon mustard (or brown mustard)
Juice from 1/2 lemon
1 tsp. Apple cider vinegar
2 tsp. White sugar
1 tsp. Water
Salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste
Olive oil – (It’s hard to measure, I whisk in oil until it’s a thick, salad dressing texture. Probably close to ¾ cup)
1. Make the tortellini according to the package instructions, making sure to not overcook or else the pasta will fall apart.
2. In a large bowl, mix all of the vegetables together and season with a bit of salt and pepper to taste.
3. In a separate bowl, mix together all of the dressing ingredients except for the olive oil. Once mixed, slowly whisk in olive oil until well combined — do not stop whisking or else it will separate. You want it to look like a thick creamy dressing. (Adjust ingredients to taste — I always add less salt at first and keep adding as I taste.)
5. Mix together tortellini, vegetables and dressing in a large bowl. Then, mix in salami, mozzarella and parsley. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Greek-inspired Orzo Salad
This salad is light and refreshing, and stays great in the fridge for a few days for easy lunches. It’s my mom’s favorite, because you get to enjoy pasta and feel like you’re being healthy at the same time.
1 16oz package of orzo
1 cucumber, diced
1 pint of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
½ red onion, thinly sliced
1 bell pepper, any color, diced
1 pack of crumbled feta cheese
1 small can of black olives, sliced
½ cup olive oil
1 juice from one lemon
1 bunch of dill, chopped
- Cook orzo according to the package and let it cool completely while preparing vegetables.
- Mix all of the vegetables in a large bowl (cucumber, onion, tomatoes and pepper). Season with salt and pepper.
- Add in feta cheese and orzo. Lightly toss everything in olive oil, lemon and dill.
- Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.
Pantry Peanut Noodle Salad
I made this salad when I needed to go to the grocery store and had to whip up something quick with what I had in my pantry. It’s cold, sweet and crunchy at the same time, and makes a great side dish for fish entrees or chicken kabobs.
1 package of spaghetti (linguini, rice noodles, or any other long, thin noodle will work)
⅓ cup of smooth peanut butter
¼ cup of soy sauce
¼ cup of unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tsp. of honey
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 tablespoon of chili garlic sauce
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Juice of one lime
2 green onions, sliced
1 cup of tri-color coleslaw mix (cabbage and carrots)
3 radishes, sliced
Sesame seeds, for serving
1. Boil the pasta according to the package instructions. Allow it to cool for a few minutes before rinsing with cold water and setting aside.
2. Whisk peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, honey, sesame oil, garlic sauce, garlic powder and lime juice together in a small bowl.
3. In a large box, toss the noodles in the sauce so they’re fully coated
4. Top with sesame seeds and vegetables (I like to add the vegetables to individual serving bowls so they stay crunchy).
Cast Iron Canned Corn Salad
I really like making this in the summer with fresh corn on the cob on the grill, but when duty calls, canned corn can be a delicious substitute. This is a great side dish or condiment for tacos, fish or meat.
2 cans of corn, drained
½ red bell pepper, diced
⅓ red onion, diced
2 tbsp. Fresh jalapeños, diced (remove seeds for less spice)
1 bunch of green onions, sliced
1 package of Cotija cheese (or any white, crumbly cheese)
Honey lime dressing:
1 tsp. Garlic powder
Juice from ½ lime
2 tbsp. Honey
1 tsp. Sriracha
1 tbsp. Olive oil
- Heat up a small cast iron pan on medium-high and add a little olive oil. If you don’t have a mini cast, any small pan will work or use a big cast iron pan.
- Cook peppers and corn in cast until it’s a little browned and fully cooked. I like some of the edges of the corn to be blackened if possible. Then, remove from heat.
- While that cools, mix together garlic powder, lime juice, honey, sriracha and olive oil in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper.
- Once the corn is room temperature (might take a bit), mix in bell pepper, onion, jalapenos and green onions. Toss it all with honey-lime dressing.
- Top with crumbled cheese and cool before serving.