For me, summertime fare means fresh, happenin' side dishes. Sure, barbecue chicken and burgers on the grill are fabulous. But, I really look forward to the sides when it comes to summer cookouts and gatherings. Potato salad. Crisp, sliced cucumbers paired with fresh dill and doused with vinegar. Buttery corn on the cob. Fresh fruit salad. A good guacamole. A crudité platter with creamy dip. And, pasta salad. Glorious, scrumptious pasta salad.
I make so many versions of pasta salad throughout the summer months. This one is a great recipe for showcasing fresh corn and garden tomatoes this time of year.
The vinaigrette-style dressing used in this recipe is light and simple. It really allows the fresh vegetables to shine and it doesn't compete with the other ingredients. (NOTE: A high-quality, store-bought Italian-style dressing can be used in place of the oil, lemon juice and balsamic vinegar dressing if you desire a more-robust, no fuss dressing.)
What's great about this salad is that it gets better with time. So, it's the perfect make-ahead side dish for your summer gatherings and parties. Gather up some just-picked vegetables, grab a box of mini pasta shells, break out that bottle of balsamic vinegar and make this before the summer is over!
16 ounces small pasta shells
3 ears sweet corn, shucked
6 scallions (green onions), sliced
1 cup sliced or diced red, orange and/or yellow sweet peppers
5 - 7 radishes, sliced into half-moons
1/2 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 bunch fresh basil
5 tablespoons good-quality olive oil
2 tablespoons good-quality balsamic vinegar
Juice from one large lemon
Freshly-ground black pepper
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling and heavily-salted water for 8 - 10 minutes. Drain the pasta and rinse under cold water. Transfer pasta to a large mixing bowl.
Meanwhile, slightly char the ears of corn on an indoor grill pan or in a dry, large skillet. Don't allow them to burn too much or the corn will have a bitter taste. (Alternately, the corn kernels can be cut from the cobs after shucking and then added in with the pasta during the last few minutes of boiling if you don't desire any char on the corn.)
Transfer corn to a cutting board. Once slightly cooled, cut kernels from cobs. Add kernels to the cooled pasta.
Add in the scallions, peppers, radishes and tomatoes. Tear the basil into pieces and add into the pasta mixture.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, lemon juice, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper and red pepper flakes (if using). Pour over the pasta mixture. Mix to thoroughly bring together and coat the ingredients.
Cover and chill for, at least, a few hours to allow flavors to develop. (This pasta salad does get better as it sits and holds up well made a day or two in advance.)
At time of service, check the seasonings and adjust accordingly. (If pasta seems too dry, add in a little more oil and/or vinegar as needed.)
Salad can be served cold or at room temperature.
NOTE: The dressing for this salad can be made into a creamy dressing by simply adding 1 cup of good-quality mayonnaise and 1/4 cup sour cream into the vinaigrette base. If adding in the mayo and sour cream, serve pasta salad cold.