This is one of those dishes that bring back memories of summertime meals al fresco at my family’s home in Italy. Actually, I am sure that my aunt Luciana, who likes to cook for an army even now that she is in her eighties, still makes this delicious pasta salad a couple of times each summer.
It is not her recipe because I have this vague memory of her showing me a magazine photo of it years ago, but I am sure she has modified it, because she always does. Wherever it hails from, we all love it and I hope you will, too.
The original recipe calls for something called lingua salmistrata, which is beef tongue that has been cured in a bath of salt, herbs and spices for 2-4 weeks and then boiled. It can be purchased already cooked and freshly sliced at most deli counters in Italian grocery stores. However, since I have never seen it anywhere in Hawai’i or California, the first time I made this pasta salad for a potluck party I decided to go for the closest possible substitute: slices of good quality pastrami. The other good option would be corned beef.
MEDITERRANEAN PASTA SALAD WITH BELL PEPPERS, PASTRAMI & BLACK OLIVES
yields ca. 10 portions
– 250 gr. (ca 8.8 oz.) dried fresh-egg tagliatelle/fettuccine pasta – you can make them from scratch, and here is the recipe, or you can purchase excellent ones imported from Italy at your nearest specialty food store
– 560 gr. (ca 20 oz.) bell pepper (ca 2-3 large bell peppers), either red or orange for color, or maybe one of each depending on the size
– 150 gr. (5.3 oz.) black olives without stone
– 300 gr. (10.6 oz.) sliced pastrami, 1mm thickness ca.
– 1/3 cup small capers, drained from their juice – usually one of those small thin jars will suffice
– 8-9 anchovy fillets in olive oil – you will find small jars of these at those same specialty food store
– 3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
– extra-virgin olive oil
– coarse sea salt
– freshly ground black pepper
– ca. 1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley
Julienne is a French term that means sliced into (thin) strips. I am sure most of you are familiar with the term, but it is always best to repeat it, just in case…
In this case you will be trying to match the width of the pasta you are using.
1. Wash and trim the bell peppers and julienne them into strips (see image above). Heat a couple of Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil in a sauté pan, add the julienned bell peppers, season with salt and pepper and cook on medium heat until tender and colored, circa 5-8 minutes. Set aside. In the meantime: slice the black olives in half lengthwise and then into thin strips, also lengthwise, and set aside. Slice the slices of pastrami into matching strips and set aside.
2. Place 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil in a small sauté pan, add the anchovy fillets and the crushed garlic cloves. Bring to gentle heat and cook on low until the anchovies and garlic have almost dissolved into a creamy pulp. Make sure the oil never boils as you don’t want it to burn, and you will need to keep gently pressing down on the anchovies with a fork to help the fillets crush and blend. It is a slow but simple process. The end result is a sauce called bagna caôda (literally: hot dip) that is traditional of the Piemonte region, and a favorite with my Dad. This sauce, or dip, can be used for various things, so you might want to keep it in mind. In this case, it will be the dressing for the pasta salad. Set aside when ready.
3. In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to a boil, adding a handful of coarse sea salt. Remember each salt is different, and so is each hand. Add the pasta and cook for a few minutes (ca 3-8′ depending on the thickness – dried pasta takes a little longer than freshly made pasta) until tender but still al dente. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water until the pasta has reached room temperature and has stopped “cooking”.
Let the excess water drain off well, drizzle a little extra-virgin olive oil on it and give it a quick stir with your hands right there in the colander, then set aside.
NOTE: you only rinse cooked pasta in cold water when making a cold pasta salad. I am making a point of saying this because of how stunned a friend was when, watching me cook pasta for a hot dish, I did not rinse the pasta in running water, something which he had apparently been doing up until that point. It was my turn to be shocked when I heard this.
4. Assemble the salad. Add the cold pasta to a large bowl and dress with the anchovy-garlic sauce. The best way to stir this will be with your hands. Add the sautéed bell peppers with the oil that goes with those and stir. Then add the pastrami, black olives and capers and stir again. You might need to add a little extra-virgin olive oil if you feel it is not enough. If you desire, add a final round of freshly cracked black pepper. Finally, sprinkle with a the freshly chopped parsley and the pasta salad is ready to serve.
This salad is perfect for picnics and parties, and will last covered in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. You can definitely make it one day ahead.
The vegetarian version is without pastrami and anchovies, but it is still excellent because of the other flavors. In that case, you might want to still heat up the extra-virgin olive oil for the dressing with the crushed garlic, and maybe add some crushed chilies as well. I have done it this way several times and loved it.
And if you eat vegan, besides the above changes, you can simply use regular Italian dried pasta instead of the fresh-egg type, like bavette, bucatini or even short pasta. Regular Italian dried pasta is made with durum flour, water, salt and nothing else.
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This recipe was originally published on July 12, 2013 in my Food Journey blog, which is now being integrated into this one.