A Totally Different Pasta Salad
I first made this back in not-very-pasta-salad weather. I was intrigued by the ingredients in the pasta with boiled vegetables recipe, which I found while browsing Serious Eats during vegan week. Specifically, one ingredient: potato.
Though I’m not quite a Harold McGee-level food nerd (though I do keep On Food and Cooking on my desk), when I hear of a technique that’s never before been seen in my kitchen, I bump the recipe to the top of my list.
I guess I already knew about how potatoes can transform during cooking. They secretly transform baked goods, especially hamburger buns. As themselves, they can turn into anything from crispy latkes to perfect hash browns to mashed or smashed potatoes. I once read a whole treatise on the right kind of potatoes to use for mashed potatoes. The author couldn’t believe anyone wouldn’t grasp the nuances of starchiness that foretold whether a tater ought to be mashed with butter and cream.
Still, even knowing all that, it’s hard not to say to yourself skeptically: potatoes in pasta? But there it was, a recipe called “Pasta with Melted Vegetable Sauce,” inherited from a chef who’d mastered Italian peasant-style cooking, and presented as a magical way to make a creamy, rich, and hearty sauce from nothing more than boiled vegetables.
It’s not just the potatoes that make this recipe strange and irresistible. This recipe abandons browning in oil. Instead, everything–veggies and pasta–go into a pot of boiling water, though not all at the same time. This builds up both starch and flavor in the water, so that by the time the pasta goes in, it’s essentially simmering in broth. The final touch
And why make this into pasta salad? Well, back in the winter, I made a huge batch. It was great-tasting when hot, but the leftovers were arguably even better. Which made me think “pasta salad!” and stash the gem away until the right time of year–now.
- 1 large russet potato (about 12 ounces), peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice (about ¾ cups)
- 1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into ¼-inch dice (about ½ cup)
- 1 small onion, cut into ¼-inch dice (about ¾ cup)
- 1 yellow pepper, cut into ¼-inch dice
- 1 zucchini, cut into ¼-inch dice
- 1 pound dried cavatappi pasta (or other shortish shape)
- 2 to 4 medium cloves garlic, minced with salt til pulverized, or grated on a Microplane (use the smaller amount if you’re not really a garlic person, the larger if you totally are)
- ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup minced parsley
- Freshly ground black pepper
- About ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
- Bring a large pot of water to boil, and salt it for cooking pasta (use a lot!). Add the potato and set a timer for 2 minutes. Add the fennel and carrot and set a timer for another 2 minutes. Now add the onion and set another 2-minute timer. Finally, add the yellow pepper and the zucchini and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the potato pieces are very easily crushed with a fork.
- Use a slotted spoon or fine strainer to scoop out all the veggies from the water, transferring them to a large bowl. Leave the water boiling in the pot. Don’t worry if you can’t catch every last piece of diced veggie - they’re all going to the same place.
- Add the pasta to the water and cook according to package directions. Drain, saving 1 cup of pasta-cooking water
- While the pasta is cooking, mix the minced garlic, olive oil, and parsley to vegetables, and stir thoroughly until potatoes have broken down for form a chunky puree. Season with salt and pepper and taste for balance of flavors—it should be rich, salty, and a little spicy.
- Mix in the drained pasta and the cheese. Add the cooking water a few drips at a time until the sauce coats the pasta. Eat warm, or cool to room temperature and serve as pasta salad. You can also make in advance and store overnight in the fridge. Leave on the counter for an hour or so, to take the chill off.