Whenever I think of summer, I always remember the backyard parties and picnics my mom used to host just around my birthday in July. She always fried up batches of chicken while my dad grilled hamburgers and hot dogs. The menus never changed much from year to year. So I could always expect there to be potato salad and pasta salad. What would a backyard barbecue be without them? I do love those types of "picnic" salads, but they're usually laden with mayonnaise and oftentimes pretty flavorless. I'm a bit more creative now with my pasta salads. I eschew the macaroni for penne, and make a very flavorful vinaigrette in place of the gloppy mayo. One of my favorite standbys is Greek-style pasta salad.
I love all Mediterranean flavors, but especially the salty and briny flavors of feta and olives. This pasta salad wouldn't be Greek without them. Fresh oregano and red-wine vinegar also help to make this salad feel truly Greek. The best part is the time it takes for this salad to come together, which is just about the time it takes to cook the pasta, 10 minutes. Assemble the salad warm so that the feta melts into the pasta and the pasta absorbs the vinaigrette. Chill if you like, but it's just as good—if not more flavorful—warm. It couldn't be easier to feed a crowd with a big batch pasta salad this coming Memorial Day.
Greek Pasta Salad
Note: For this recipe I like small penne with ridges. It absorbs the flavors of the vinaigrette better than a smooth pasta.
1 pound mezze penne or pennette rigate
3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice (about half lemon)
1 small shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh oregano
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces feta, crumbled
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 small yellow bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup green and black kalamata olives, pitted
Cook penne according to package directions in a large pot of liberally salted water until al dente.
While pasta cooks, make vinaigrette. In a measuring cup or small bowl, combine vinegar, lemon juice, shallot, garlic, and salt. Let macerate for 5 minutes. Add pepper, oregano, and whisk in olive oil.
Drain pasta and return to pot. Add crumbled feta, tomatoes, bell pepper, and olives. Toss to combine. Pour over with vinaigrette and toss again to combine. Serve warm or chilled. Yield 6 to 8 servings.