My bison-ranching friends invited me along to a picnic being held on a ranch owned by friends of theirs out south and east of where their own ranch is. It was a spectacularly beautiful place, an abundance of wonderful food was arrayed over the prettiest tablecloths I’ve ever seen in one place, a lovely bluegrass band entertained, and the dogs got to run in a joyous pack of 10 to
12 (they were rarely still enough to permit an accurate count). The heat even backed off a bit. The quintessential mid-summer holiday doesn’t get any better.
I took along a big bowl of pasta salad. I don’t think of such a salad as actually having a recipe. Basically, I boiled up all the partial bags of various shapes and colors of pasta (including some deliciously tender cheese tortelini) that I’d kept in the pantry for when
something like this would wander by; I chopped up some vegetables, and brought it all together with a vinaigrette. Inasmuch as it was going to sit out on a table for a while, I left out anything that might be heat-sensitive.
I included some roma tomatoes, which are good in a composed salad such as this because they’re lower in water and can stand up to being tossed around. Red onions have a sweet crunch. Artichoke hearts packed in olive oil, oh yes! I sliced each in half the long way to make them more bite-sized. Finally a generous handful of chopped Italian parsley added some more color and bright flavor. When serving it under less stressful temperatures, I like to add chunks of feta or fresh mozzarella, as well as shreds of fresh basil.
The proportions of a vinaigrette are typically 3 to 1: 3 parts olive oil to 1 part
vinegar. For about a cup of finished dressing, I add about a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, which not only tastes good, but also emulsifies the vinaigrette. Oil and vinegar, like oil and water, will not blend and stay blended; mustard, though, bonds with both oil and vinegar, thus holding them in a blended, or emulsified state.
Measure the vinegar into a mixing bowl. Add about a teaspoon of sea or kosher salt, and whisk until the salt has dissolved. Whisk in the mustard and some grinds of pepper. Whisk in the oil, pouring it in a slow, steady stream, whisking all the while. Taste, and adjust seasonings as you like. Pour the dressing
over your salad, and toss to blend everything. Taste the salad, and again adjust seasonings if necessary. A salad like this is best if it can sit for a couple of hours before being served so that the pasta can absorb lots of the wonderful flavors.