My mom first made a version of this years ago and it has always been a hit at parties and barbecues ever since. I modified it a bit to suit my preferences and I recently served it at a company barbecue where they had a vote for best side dishes. This came in third. Cheese stuffed pepperdews and spicy mac&cheese beat me out. They were delicious and who doesn’t love cheese in any form? I do rest in the fact this is the first time any pasta dish ever won in the top three.
It is chock full of veggies and flavor and a unique and welcome pasta dish. It is fantastic for summer time as there is nothing in it that will spoil in the sun and it is healthy with a good ratio of pasta to veggies. This dish can be served cold, room temp or slightly warm.
It can all be made in one day and served, but I find it best to make it a day ahead. There is a bit of prep work involved for the vegetables, unless you take advantage of the pre-cut veggies at your local supermarket. That will save a lot of time. A food processor or mini chopper also help to make quick work of a number of items. When I am pressed for time, I take advantage of any short cut I can find. When I have time, I relish the meditation I get when I hand cut, chop and prep the ingredients (for any recipe really). I get satisfaction knowing I did it and the ingredients do taste better freshly cut. But by all means, take the short cuts.
One of the big changes I made was to the prep to the vegetables. May not sound like there is much you can do, but I do not like RAW broccoli, Cauliflower or brussels sprouts. So I add a step to slightly blanch them in the pasta water then put them in an ice bath to cool them down. This serves two purposes: The pasta water is salted and in the process of blanching imparts some salt and flavor to them; They cook slightly softening them and allowing them to better soak up the dressing/marinade imparting a TON of flavor. You are welcome to skip this step if you prefer all raw vegetables. I also cut/break the vegetables up into smaller pieces, no bigger than a small cherry or grape tomato. It really makes eating them easier and with them smaller, each vegetable is better penetrated by the dressing making each bite an explosion in flavor.
My dressing is slightly different, mainly in amounts and ratios. I do add a bit more ginger. Ginger is not only a big flavor component, in certain quantities, it can also add some “heat” level to a dish.
One step I did keep and is very important not to skip is seasoning the pasta while it is still hot. When the pasta is warm, it is more likely to absorb the flavors/seasonings added. In this case, the seasoning is simple – and that is tossing the drained pasta with toasted sesame oil and fresh black pepper and spread on a sheet pan to cool faster. Toss the pasta frequently to release the steam until it is room temp.
The type of sesame oil here is important. Toasted or Dark sesame oil work best for a stronger flavor. A lighter sesame oil does not add as much flavor. But if that is all you can find, then use what you have.
I do like using the tri-colored spiral pasta or pene with ridges, as the groves are a magnet for sauces/dressings. However, any type of pasta with ridges or nooks and crannies can be used. You could also use a thin linguine or spaghetti.
Also, the recipe contains a list of vegetables. Those are what I typically use. However, you can use any vegetable you desire. At the bottom of the recipe, I list additional vegetables you can substitute or add that would work well with this dish. Mix and match. Use what you like and can find. Just follow the prep instructions (to make bite sized) and you are all set. And you can change the ratio of pasta to vegetables to your liking – ie: more pasta or more vegetables. This recipe is about 1/2 vegetables and 1/2 pasta.
Enough Chitter Chatter – lets get on to it.
Makes 3 – 4 quarts of Salad
1 LB tri-colored pasta (Spirals, ziti with ridges)
1/4 cup Toasted/dark Sesame oil
1 TBS fresh ground Black pepper
1 small Red cabbage, outer leaves and core removed, then sliced thin and the strips cut into 1.5 inch strips
1 small head of Broccoli, florets broken down into the size of a small cherry tomato (you can use the stems for a vegetable stock)
1/3 head of Cauliflower , florets broken down into the size of a small cherry tomato (keep all the bits that fall off)
1 small Red onion, peeled and sliced thin, then cut the strips into thirds
1 handful of Snow Peas or sugar snap peas, ends trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 large Red Bell Pepper (or part of combination of red, orange, yellow, green), juillened (thinly sliced into) and then cut into 1 inch pieces
4 large Brussels sprouts, outer leaves and core removed, sliced thin, then cut into match stick sized strips.
1 cup Shredded carrots (easy short cut)
2 in piece of Ginger, peeled and finely diced
3 Garlic cloves, finely diced
1/2 cup Soy sauce
1/4 cup Mirin / cooking sake
1/4 cup Rice wine vinegar
3 TBS toasted sesame oil
- Prepare the dressing – add all into a glass jar or mixing bowl. Shake or whisk and let sit. Do this first so the dressing has a chance to blend.
- Fill a large stock pot 2/3rds of the way with water and season with about 2 TBS of salt. Bring to boil over med-high heat. then add the pasta and cook according to the pasta directions.
- While the water is heating and pasta cooking, start preparing the vegetables if not already done. Start with the broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts first so they are ready when the pasta is done. Put the Broccoli, Cauliflower and Brussels Sprouts into a separate bowl, all others can be combined into one bowl.
- Once the pasta is done, Pour enough pasta water to cover the broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts. Drain the rest of the pasta and spread out into a large bowl or sheet pan. Immediately pour the sesame oil over the pasta and sprinkle on the ground pepper. Toss to evenly coat. Continue to toss occasionally to release the steam and stop the cooking of the pasta.
- Let sit no more than 2 minutes. Then drain and run and toss under cold water and some ice cubes. This will stop the cooking process – turn them bright green (except the cauliflower). Drain. Let them sit in a strainer until in the sink or over a bowl until the pasta is cool. This will allow excess water to drain off.
Optional: Zucchini, Mushrooms, Summer Squash, Scallions, bean sprouts, toasted sesame seeds, kale, spinach, black olives, green beans, chicken, shrimp, cashews, peanuts. Pretty much anything you find in your fridge. The critical steps are in cooking the pasta. Seasoning the pasta. Making the dressing. And par cooking the broccoli & cauliflower & Brussels sprouts.