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 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place at the table — often at a few select barbecue establishments and meat-and-threes — but other times it just seems outdated.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 is 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 Salad
Serves 6 to 8
2 (9-ounce) packages cheese tortellini
1 cup very thinly sliced red onions (or Vidalias)
1 medium 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
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the tortellini. Drain and run briefly under cool water to cool the tortellini down.
While the tortellini are cooking, soak red onions in a small bowl of ice water for 10 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
In a large bowl, combine the cooked tortellini, drained onions, bell pepper, and salami. Whisk together red wine vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, then 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.
(Image credits: Nealey Dozier)