Saturday, June 19, 2010

Perfect Picnic Pasta Salad

So, as is my way, I was watching the Food Network recently, and I caught an episode of Giada at Home, starring everyone's favorite Italian bobblehead doll. (I kid, Giada, I kid!) And on this particular episode, she made an intriguing pasta salad that really looked more like an entrée, but that's probably because we don't expect pasta salads to have tomato-based sauces/dressings. What I can tell you is that this dish is excellent served hot for dinner, just as good at room temperature for a snack later on (when cleaning the kitchen and putting food away...tee hee), and awesome cold the next day for lunch, once the flavors really had a chance to mingle.

Hence, I think this would be the PERFECT thing to take to a picnic, potluck, or BBQ, because it can make use of fresh, seasonal tomatoes and herbs, it's yummy at any temperature, and you don't have the safety concerns of mayonnaise-based dressings baking in the hot summer sun. Plus, it's a great make-ahead dish to give the flavors time to develop further. Now, I know the combination of tuna and tomatoes may sound a little weird to some of you, but TRUST ME, PEOPLE, it is DEE-licious! And, my apologies to lovely Giada, but I think my twists on her recipe made it even more delectable. ;-)

Tuna and Campanelle Salad (Gina's Way!)
(Source: adapted from Giada De Laurentiis and Food Network's Giada at Home)

1 pound campanelle pasta (I used some huge imported radiatore)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small or 1/2 medium red onion, chopped (I used a whole medium onion)
2 cloves garlic, minced (um, or SIX!)
1 (6-ounce) can Italian tuna in oil (I used 2 cans)
1 pint (2 cups) cherry tomatoes, halved (I used one can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes)
8 ounces frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and quartered (I used a 14.5 oz. can, drained and coarsely chopped)
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained (I omitted these and used about a half cup of sliced burgundy olives)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (I used fresh basil)
salt and freshly ground black pepper

*In addition to the above, I also added perhaps a half teaspoon of red pepper flakes, the juice of half a lemon, and about 3/4 cup shredded parmesan.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and reserve about one cup of the pasta water.

In a 14-inch skillet, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds until aromatic. Add the tuna to the skillet and, using a fork, break into chunks. Add the tomatoes, artichoke hearts, olives, thyme, red pepper flakes, and lemon juice. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to soften, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the pasta and the parsley or basil, and toss until all the ingredients are coated, adding a little pasta water, if needed, to thin out the sauce.

Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and sprinkle on the shredded parmesan. Transfer the pasta to a serving bowl and serve warm or at room temperature (or cold!).

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