It is my brother's birthday today, and since he specially asked me to post this recipe on my blog (a few months ago now), here it is. And actually it isn't really a recipe, in that there is no set ingredient list, more a set of suggestions. As with so many salads, there is a lot of leeway for substitution, deletion and addition, but even more so with this particular one. This is one of those recipes where you just see what you have in your fridge, and/or your garden and pantry, and go from there. There are a few elements that must be included, but even within those elements there is so much room for flexibility that this salad never turns out the same twice.
One of the great things about this salad is that it is a complete meal. It can be served warm or cold, making it perfect for summer, and it is also an excellent meal to make when you are at the bach, camping or having some other adventure - a little bit of advance preparation at home is sometimes helpful, depending on how primitive your cooking situation is when you go away.. And leftovers make a great lunch the next day.
As many of you know, i work for the Department of Conservation, and during the spring/summer months i go in to the hills for up to 2 weeks at a time. This salad is on the menu at least once every trip, and i've not had any complaints yet. Possibly because it tastes a bit different every time, possibly because my workmate Jo is too polite to complain.! The picture below is Jo and a volunteer Pru at the staff bivvy in the Hawdon about to tuck in to a tasty plate of pasta salad. There's a 2-burner gas cooker in the bivvy, which was used for cooking the pasta, but i had pre-boiled the eggs and toasted the sunflower and pumpkin seeds at home the previous day. I also chopped the sun-dried tomatoes at home, and transported them in a small screw-top container - all things that help to make this a very quick meal to prepare after a long day in the field.
So... the essential elements for this salad are as follows....
1. Pasta - obviously. Use whatever shape and type of pasta you like. I usually use penne, and lately i've been using wholemeal pasta.
2. High quality mayonnaise, bought or home-made. I usually use Best Foods "Real Mayonnaise". Sometimes i stir a bit of pesto through the mayonnaise for extra flavour, but this is not really necessary
3. Sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped. You don't need many, as sun-dried tomatoes have so much flavour that a little goes a long way.
4. Fresh herbs. Use whatever is in season - at the moment i'm using lashings of basil, as i have plenty growing in the greenhouse. Early in the season i use tarragon, which adds a lovely sweetness; sometimes i use coriander. I'll often also bulk out the herb component with parsley, mint, chives or anything else i have growing.
5. Extra greenery. Once again, this just depends what i have available in the garden or is in the fridge that needs using up - fresh peas, beans, finely chopped spinach, kale or silverbeet, sliced celery stalks, lightly blanched broccoli or cauliflower florets - the options here are limitless. The salad i made last night had broccoli from the fridge and lots of arugula (rocket) from the garden. I was also going to add some zucchini, but the bowl was getting full so i saved the zucchini for tonight's dinner.
6. Someone from the Allium family (for the pedants among you, i realise 'Allium' is a genus, but 'family' sounded better in this context. Alright?). I usually use a wedge of red onion, finely chopped, or chopped spring onions.
7. Something red. Often i will chop some red capsicum; last night i used halved cherry tomatoes, as we've got lots at present. Occasionally i'll just grate or finely chop some carrot if nothing else is available (orange being on the 'red' spectrum).
8. Eggs, hard-boiled and quartered. Of course, some people (my brother included) have a deep hatred of eggs, so like all the items except the first two in this list these aren't really essential; they are just an item i always happen to include. If you omit the eggs, choose a substitute protein item from the 'optional extras' list below.
9. Sunflower and pumpkin seeds, dry toasted in a fry pan, with a dash of tamari or soy sauce added right near the end of the cooking time (leave the heat on just long enough to dry the tamari on the seeds).
10. Cracked black pepper, sprinkled over at the end.
The above are the items i always include; below are items i sometimes add...
1. Olives - green or black, but make sure they are pitted to avoid any nasty dental accidents.
2. Cheese - feta cubes, coarsely grated Parmesan, or cubes of fried haloumi.
3. Meat - chopped salami or crispy bits of fried bacon.
5. Bean sprouts.
That pretty much covers all the items i have been known to include in my pasta salad. I usually allow 150g of pasta per person, which ensures there will be leftovers for lunch the following day. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, apart from the eggs and seeds. Add mayonnaise a small spoonful at a time and stir through well before adding more. A little bit of mayo goes a long way, and you can all too easily spoil this (indeed any) salad by drenching it in mayo. When you have sufficient mayo well incorporated add the hard boiled eggs and combine very gently so as not to break them up. Sprinkle the toasted seeds over the top just before serving, so they don't go soggy.