Pasta salads are infinitely flexible, delicious, and ready be dressed up. When I get a crush on a cheese or a vegetable the pasta salad plays impresario, showing off its charms. But I can get easily carried away; if goat cheese, why not Parmesan too? A handful of dried fruit, toasted pecans, three cruciferous vegetables, and a gilding of bacon, and pretty soon we're in the third ring of a salad circus.
While elaborate salads are delightful, there are times, like right now in picnic season, when it is better to strip it down to the basics and keep it simple. This reader favorite has a mere handful of ingredients, but they're winners — feta, olives, snap-tender broccoli, and colorful pasta. This is the easy pasta salad party you need this week.
This salad comes from my mother, who whipped it up for a Sunday lunch with family. It scales nicely (lunch at our house usually involves at least 14 people) and the simple ingredients go a long way in flavor.
This makes a fabulous lunch, too; add a few strips of grilled chicken, if you like. It's good cold, warm, or hot — the mark of a most excellent pasta salad, in my opinion. I prefer it just a little warm, with the broccoli still snappy.
Broccoli and Feta Pasta Salad
1 pound tri-color pasta
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 medium head broccoli, chopped into 1/2-inch florets
8 ounces feta cheese
1 cup pitted Kalamata olives, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Flaky salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Cook the pasta according to package directions in a generous quantity of boiling, well-salted water. Drain and return to the pan or a large bowl and toss until coated with 1 tablespoon olive oil.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a deep sauté pan over medium heat. Add the broccoli and cook until crisp-tender — about 5 to 7 minutes. Toss the broccoli with the cooked pasta.
Crumble the feta cheese into the pasta, and stir in the olives as well. Whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and vinegar and toss with the pasta. Season generously with salt and pepper. Refrigerate overnight, or until serving.
(Images: Faith Durand)