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Tortellini Salad with Creamy Herb Dressing

June 28, 2007

Tortellini Salad

It has been so wickedly, unbearably hot here these past two days that I can’t do any of the things I want to do in the kitchen, like make pizza or bake a cherry pie or get anywhere near the stove. It is such oppressive, mind-melting heat that it feels like August, not June. Our apartment is on the third floor and has an amazing ability to retain heat like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I’m not sure why we’ve never bothered to put in an air conditioner, but if this past week is any indication of what the rest of the summer will be like, it might be about that time.

So what does a person eat when it’s so hot it requires all your energy just to open your mouth? Salads. Cold, refreshing salads. This is when Lisa’s salad round up comes in very, very handy. I perused, I pondered, I tried to stay upright in front of my computer when all I really wanted to do was lay down in a tub of ice. And then I chanced upon the best hot night dinner ever: pasta salad.

This particular pasta salad was inspired by the tortellini salad Lisa wrote about. I substituted the Italian dressing for a creamy egg-based dressing I found in an old issue of Food & Wine magazine, and added whatever looked good at the market: some beans, some pancetta, some green peppers. The dressing didn’t hold up too well in the refrigerator, appearance-wise, but it tasted pretty darn good. I found these beautiful tri-color tortellini at the Harvest, which I believe are from a company down the road–I love being able to eat local like that. And I used mint leaves from my very own porch garden! Very exciting.

Putting this all together did require a bit more time in front of the stove than I maybe would have liked, but it was worth it in the end, after it cooled off in the refrigerator for a few hours, and we washed it down with huge classes of ice water while sitting out on our newly repaired, slighly less overheated back porch. I’m betting on this salad being even better this afternoon for lunch.

Close up tortellinis

Tortellini Salad with Creamy Herb Dressing

  • 1 bag of cheese tortellini
  • 1 15-ounce can of salad beans (kidneys, pintos, and garbanzos)
  • 1 green pepper, sliced into thin inch-long pieces
  • a few slices of pancetta
  • 1/2 a container of grape tomatoes, cut in half if you have the energy for that

For the dressing

  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 c. finely chopped parsley
  • 2 T. finely chopped mint
  • a small bit of red onion or shallot, chopped up
  • 2 T. red wine vinegar
  • 5 T. olive oil

The only parts of this meal that involve being by the stove are over pretty fast: cooking the pasta, hard boiling the eggs, and frying up the pancetta. I stand by my hard boiled egg method, which I learned from Martha and later heard from other chefs, despite the naysaying of others. Place the uncooked eggs in a saucepan of cold water, so they are just covered. Set the pan on high heat until the water starts to boil. As soon as it’s boiling, remove the pan from the heat and let the eggs sit for another eight minutes. Then run them under cool water to cool them off, and set them in the refrigerator until they’re cool enough to handle.

Meanwhile, slice the pancetta up into thin strips and fry in a small skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, until it just starts to crisp up a bit.

Rinse the beans well and toss them in a big bowl with the pancetta, green peppers, tomatoes, and the cooked pasta. You could probably add some basil or green onion, if you want. Then set the bowl in the refrigator to cool off a bit while you make the dressing.

Soak the chopped up onion in the red wine vinegar, and let it soak for about five minutes. Once the eggs are cool, peel them and chop them up as finely as you can. The original recipe called for basically pulverizing them with a knife, but I thought a food processor would work much better for this. Put the onion and vinegar, parsley, mint, and egg into a food processor and give it a whirl. Slowly add the olive oil while processing everything all together until you have a nice, creamy dressing. Add a bit of salt and pepper to taste, and then pour it all over the salad. Stir everything up all up to combine it well, and then toss it back in the refrigerator so everything can be nice and cool for dinner a few hours later.

Cold salad

As you can see, the dressing separated a little bit in the refrigerator, so it looks like there’s Kraft parmesan “cheese” sprinkled all over the salad. That took me by surprise, but it still tastes excellent–very herby and rich, and a nice counterpart to the cheese tortellini. I wonder if would have worked better if I let the dressing and salad cool off separately, and added them together right before serving it. If you decide to try that out, let me know! The beans were super tasty, and the occasional bite of salty pancetta was like finding a special treat.

Pasta salad is seriously the best summer dinner–substantial enough to be a main course by itself, but cool enough to not weigh you down, either in front of a hot stove or with something massive and heavy in your belly.

I really want to make tacos this week, and cook up something tasty with the remaining aish bel lahm dough I have thawing in the refrigerator. And I bought a huge bag of cherries, with the intention of making cherry pie this week. If it doesn’t cool off soon, they’ll go moldy and I will be sad. I would also really love to be able to sleep at night, which is impossible for me to do properly when it’s this hot. All of this is just being added to my list of reasons I can’t live in New England anymore. So for the love of buddha, please, just let this heat wave break today. Please.

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