Pasta salad can mean a lot of things to a lot of people; down South, we've certainly made "macaroni salad" our own. Heirloom recipes sometimes include onions, celery, hard boiled eggs, pickles, or sweet relish, and you can always count on a heaping dollop of, but what else? Mayonnaise, of course!
The creamy classic certainly has its place at the table—often at a few select barbecue establishments and meat-and-threes—but other times it just seems outdated. I decided to give the traditional recipe a makeover to deem it more "modern potluck"-worthy: I wanted something lighter, fresher, and able to hold up in the brutal summer heat (because who really wants to eat warm Hellmann's?).
What I came up with is the little black dress of pasta salad! My updated version yields a super simple yet flavorful side that's perfect day or night, whether it's a casual lunch or fancy cocktail party. I've made this recipe what seems like a million times now and it never gets old. Sometimes I'm surprised at how basic it is, but isn't that really just the sign of a good dish?
Zesty Tortellini SaladServes 6-8
1 cup very thinly sliced red onions (or Vidalias)
2 (9-ounce) packages cheese tortellini, cooked and drained*
1 red bell pepper, diced
4 ounces Genoa salami, sliced into thin strips
1/3 cup good-quality red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons good-quality olive oil
Squeeze of lemon juice
1 heaping tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Soak red onions in a small bowl of ice water for 10 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
In a large bowl, combine the onions, cooked tortellini, bell pepper, and salami. Whisk together red wine vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper; toss with pasta until combined. Taste and season with additional vinegar, salt, and pepper if necessary. Stir in chopped parsley just before serving.
This recipe can be made up to 2 days in advance. Add chopped parsley and a few more splashes of red wine vinegar and olive oil before serving, to taste.
*Note: I used a mix of regular cheese tortellini and spinach cheese tortellini.
Related: Recipe: Italian Macaroni Salad
(Images: Nealey Dozier)