I like to cook almost as well as anyone you know, but I also enjoy days when dinner is done and in the fridge, ready to go — especially come summer. (Though I’d admit real summer has yet to arrive in Colorado–no complaints.) Instead of turning on the stove, I can crawl up into my comfy reading chair with its humongous hassock, fall into my latest mystery or sleazy novel, and sip something very, very cold indeed. Typically, and you know this, it’s a pot of soup that has me all comfortably cozy-lazy with the latest Ruth Galloway (Elly Griffiths) or Louise Penny’s most recent Gamache thriller. But recently I’ve discovered a nice stash of protein heavy pasta salad will do the trick just as well. I like to bring a mammoth, heavenly pasta salad to a potluck or cookout (a great one-dish side) or on a road trip, but come hot weather, it’s happy at home right in my kitchen fridge just waiting for me to get hungry. With a little extra meat, cheese, beans, or fish, my salad feels perfect for dinner and leftovers are then easy offerings for lunch. Did I mention they’re whole meal deals? Nothing else is needed. Well, wine.
My most current cooking happiness is a Greek Salmon Pasta Salad and no, it’s not made with Greek salmon. I just couldn’t find a name that said exactly what it was except Greek Salmon Pasta Salad. Because if you hear “Greek” and “salad” in the same phrase, you know there’s some tomato, cucumber, onion, oregano, kalamata olives, and feta in there, right? Add “pasta” and “salmon” and we definitely have those veggies and feta plus salmon and pasta. Et voilá! I guess it could have been Greek Pasta Salad with Salmon or even Mediterranean Pasta and Salmon Salad–even worse. If you one of those better, pencil it in on your copy. Sure. I’m just not sold, though I might keep thinking about it.
You can easily make my dish to use up a little extra salmon you grilled one night or it could be, as it was for me, made from scratch. Salmon’s fast to cook, pasta’s not slow, and after that you only need to chop a few things. Few being a relative term for Alyce. What I mean is there’s very little effort for what turns out to be a whopping big bowl of food great for at least a couple dinners, to take in a cooler for a hotel meal or for camping, or to send to a neighbor with a new baby. First time through, I quadrupled the recipe as I was taking the lion’s share over to Interfaith Hospitality Network to feed four families they’re sheltering. The second time, I cut the recipe in half for only me as my husband was traveling. Both times, the result was lovely, satisfying, filling, and fun. Is this a pretty dish or what?! For the second go-round, I used campanelle pasta (means bell flowers in Italian) and nearly liked it better than penne. Each time, the secret for a delicious pasta salad was, as always, seasoning every layer of the dish: the vinaigrette (with garlic), the water for the pasta (with salt and pepper, please), the pasta after it is drained (oil, vinegar, salt and pepper), the salmon before it’s cooked (olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon), the vegetables as they’re added (herbs, spices), and the whole deal at the end. Taste, taste; season, season. Build flavor as you build the salad. Remember– if it still tastes a bit underwhelming at the end, you probably need a few shakes of red wine vinegar and/or squeezes of straight lemon juice to jack it up. Perk is better than salt sometimes.
Whether you make half, whole, double, or quadruple the recipe, I’m pretty sure you’ll be happy when you try this:
Greek Salmon Pasta Salad
- Lemon-Garlic Vinaigrette (see notes—make first and let rest while you make the salad)
- 1- pound penne pasta
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Good quality red wine vinegar
- ½ small red onion, cut into small dice
- 1 sweet bell pepper, yellow or orange, cut into small dice
- 1 English cucumber, unpeeled, cut into small dice
- 1 cup red cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
- ¼ cup chopped sundried tomatoes
- ½ cup kalamata olives, sliced (check for pits)
- Generous pinch crushed red pepper
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano or ¾ teaspoon minced fresh oregan (or to taste)
- Small handful of minced fresh parsley
- 2 (6-ounce)seasoned and cooked salmon fillets — chopped into 1-inch pieces (check for bones)
- 2/3 cup chopped feta from a block in brine, not crumbled
- ¼ cup sliced pepperoncini for garnish, optional
- COOK THE PASTA: Bring 4 quarts of well-salted and peppered water to boil in an 8-quart pot. Add pasta and cook about 10 minutes or until al dente. Drain and rinse. Tip into a large mixing bowl, drizzle with a tablespoon each of olive oil and red wine vinegar (or to taste) and sprinkle with a good pinch each of salt and pepper. Set aside.
- ADD THE FRESH VEGETABLES, OLIVES, SPICES, AND HERBS TO THE PASTA. Mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings.
- GENTLY STIR IN THE COOKED SALMON AND FETA; DRIZZLE GENEROUSLY WITH LEMON-GARLIC VINAIGRETTE. Taste a few different things in the salad and adjust seasonings one last time, including perhaps an extra drizzle of vinaigrette or the red wine vinegar or a last squeeze of lemon. Garnish with pepperoncini, if using. (The salmon and feta crumble easily, so I've left them until last.)
- SERVE AT ROOM TEMPERATURE if possible. While the dish is best served fresh, you can prepare the ingredients ahead and put them together the next day if need be. If you take it elsewhere totally prepared, bring along some extra vinaigrette as well as kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to freshen it up just before serving. Keeps 2-3 days well-covered in the refrigerator. Do not freeze.
- ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 smashed and peeled large, plump cloves of garlic
HOW TO OVEN-ROAST SALMON FILLETS IN FOIL: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a quarter or half-sheet pan with enough foil to cover the bottom of the pan and the salmon. Lay the fillets on the foil, skin side down, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, and pepper. Lay some lemon slices on top of each fillet. Fold the foil over the fish and seal the foil well. Roast until just firm but still moist throughout. (The thinner ends will be cooked more, but that’s fish.) The time will depend on the size and thickness of your fillet or fillets. My three pieces took about 18 minutes. Fish should, according to the FDA, be cooked to 145 degrees F, but I like my salmon cooked medium, so took it off at between 125-130 degrees F. The temperature will come up and the fillets will cook a bit more as the fish rests after roasting. Place the pan on a cooling rack, open the foil, and let cool. For this pasta recipe, cut into pieces 1-inch in size, checking carefully for bones. The salmon will fall apart more as you stir it into the salad, so leave the pieces at least an inch in size. (NOTE: How to cook fish isn’t written in stone like the 10 commandments. You can roast it at 350 and it will take longer. At 425 and it will take less time… and so on.) Read up on how to grill salmon fillets here.
Change it up: What pasta? Use any pasta you like, but I think the medium-sized varieties work best here. If it has grooves, ridges, edges or holes, all the better to catch the vinaigrette and spices. Think fusilli, rotini, penne, gemelli, large macaroni, radiatore, rigatoni, or even ziti. Have smaller pasta and need to use it? Fine; it’ll be delicious. Just cut the vegetables, etc., into smaller pieces so the salad makes visual, esthetic sense and chews easily. What if I don’t have all the ingredients? Make it anyway. The elements necessary for happiness in the mouth are the usual juggling suspects of various textures (crispy, chewy, tender), salty/briny, fatty, several colors, and so on. Aim for finding a group of ingredients that satisfy those longings. Think along these lines… I have no olives (salty/briny) or don’t like them. So add capers, pickles, chopped anchovies or pepperoncini or…. I have no sweet peppers (color and crispy). So I substitute pimentos (color, but not crispy) or roasted red peppers (again, color, but not crispy) and diced zucchini and/or celery or fennel (all crispy). I have no tomatoes (color and soft texture and freshness). Try roasted red peppers or extra sun-dried tomatoes. What about grilled whole or halved button mushrooms? Avocado might help, but don’t forget to stir it with citrus before adding to a salad. Or just add a little to each serving to avoid the distressing brown syndrome. No fish for you? Lovely as a veggie salad and cheaper. (See below.) Or consider using shredded rotisserie chicken in place of the salmon. Lower Carb? Skip the pasta; increase the veg for the lowest. Or decrease the amount of pasta and add some fresh spinach. There’s also high-protein, whole wheat, or GF pasta that might solve your dilemma.
Cook at home for health, wealth, and happiness.
CUTTING FOOD COSTS: See my graphic. I’d say you have…. S for Make Salad. Hopefully A for Always plan your menu and make a shopping list. V for for Value. Cook for leftovers. You’ll probably have some. E for Every Week skip a restaurant meal and maybe even have one veggie meal if you give the fish a miss. Salmon is pricy despite its healthy vibe. (Frozen salmon is cheaper, by the way.) Veggie pasta is good pasta. Ramp up the spices and heat for a veggie version. (Or you could try adding a couple of cans of decent tuna in oil.)Yay!!
Your menu needn’t be fancy and it’s always changeable. Mine’s on scrap paper and stuck on the fridge.
Alyce plans; God laughs. No pizza got made! We ate leftovers.
IHN = Interfaith Hospitality Network, part of Family Promise, which supports, houses, and feeds homeless families.
LIFE GOES ON:
In memoriam, Lorna Jean Morgan
My mother-in-law crossed the river last night after a very long illness and after contracting covid along with 19 other patients and 6 staff members in her facility. We’re grateful she’s at peace.
The blog may be on vacation for a bit as I travel back to Illinois to be with our family and attend her service of remembrance at church.
We had over an inch of rain last night, for which I’m incredibly grateful. Today: more!
Thanks for keeping me company in my kitchen — especially for these last several days. Forgive any errors you find here.