I'll forever be a Texan at heart, but the summers in Minnesota are out of this world perfect. I've been feeling a little sad that we won't be able to experience the beautiful lakeside cookouts and weekend barbecues quite like usual this year. My friends are leaning towards smaller gatherings with socially-distanced picnics and virtual patio hang outs.
But just because our settings look different doesn't mean we have to give up our favorite summer foods. I still plan to relish the sweetness of watermelon and peaches, burgers off the grill and charred veggies, and heaps of fresh salads with the best produce of the year.
When it comes to summer salads, I'm 1000% on board with all of them. And while I love a classic pasta or potato salad drenched in mayonnaise, I also lean on fresh and clean flavors for my regular rotation during this time of year. To kick off the season, I've got the perfect pasta salad that is just as good tossed fresh in your kitchen as it is packed up in Tupperware for a social-distancing picnic.
Let's chat about the components of this pasta salad.
I actually used a chickpea pasta - elbow shape because I personally think it's a must for pasta salad - but you can use any short pasta you have on hand. I was FaceTiming with my brother while cooking, and he mentioned that for any good pasta salad, you want to cook your pasta just past the al dente stage. We have a lot of pasta salad opinions in our family.
Load up on the fresh herbs, they really are a gift from summer. Mint, basil, green onions, dill, anything you have in your garden (or kitchen!) will work great and add the best dose of freshness to this, and any salad. For the veggies, I actually think less is more. You can totally use anything you have in the fridge, but my suggestion is to stick to a handful of veggies and really lean in. I love the combo of cucumbers, radishes, and peas, as they are mild enough to let the flavors of the dressing and herbs shine while also adding great texture and crunch.
Speaking of this dressing is my favorite make-every-week dressing that I put on everything from salads to roasted veggies to sandwiches. While I am a mayo-obsessive, I have plenty of friends who avoid the condiment at any cost. I really don't understand the aversion, but because I love my friends while also believing pasta salads aren't complete without a creamy dressing, I figured my ultimate sauce would work well here and of course, I was correct. Made with a base of tahini and miso, this dressing leans heavy on umami flavors that are still light and bright enough to not overpower the rest of the ingredients.
If you're not familiar with tahini, I highly recommend it as a pantry staple to have on hand. It's traditional to mediterranean and middle eastern cuisine, and of course, an integral part of any hummus recipe. But what I really like about it for dressings is that the flavor is mild enough to act as a base for other flavors you want to add. In this case, tahini plays the part of adding creaminess while the miso creates the most amazing flavor. Just like tahini, I love having miso, a Japanese staple ingredient, on hand to add to broths, dips, and other recipes for a really great savory and umami flavor. Go heavy-handed on this dressing, just trust me.
Pasta salad really is one of my favorite parts of the season, and our "new normal" still leaves plenty of room for all the summer foods that spark joy!