There have been precious few times in my life when I’ve gotten excited over a pasta salad. Truly excited. Taste buds on fire kind of excited. You know what I mean? Usually this type of tongue tingling experience is more likely for me with a perfectly cooked filet mignon or maybe an exquisitely grilled octopus tentacle.
I know, that sounds odd. I get fired up over octopus. Have you tried it? Have you tried octopus cooked right? It’s damn near sensual when it’s cooked right. Lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt, tender octopus, charred bits of loveliness rolling over your tongue. But I digress. Pasta salad…
Last week I visited Chicago. And I have to be honest with you, I didn’t think Chicago would float my boat. When I graduated from college in Michigan, there were flames on my sneakers getting the heck out of the midwest. It was more about mental baggage than anything else, but I just didn’t want to be stuck in the middle of the country anymore.
I wanted to spread my wings. No, I needed to spread my wings and fly somewhere where I could grow and change into the woman I knew I could become. And I knew in my soul that New England was the place where that would happen. And I was right.
BUT if I had known about Chicago, damn I would’ve ended up there. I fell in love with that town. So amazing in so many ways. The perfect place for a foodie. A foodie who loves architecture. And while this crazy foodie was visiting this precious city, I dined at an establishment known for its Chicago style deep dish pizza. Which was fabulous, I’ll have you know. But the dish that sang to my soul? Their chopped pasta salad. Mother of God was it good.
So many different flavors and textures in one bowl. Pasta, lettuce, tons of veggies and my favorite cheese. Blue cheese. All tossed together with this delicious dressing that reminded me of something that I had before. Something that I had MADE before. And that’s when it hit me. I knew how to replicate this recipe at home…
Besides a killer dressing, the thing that makes this dish sing is the textural combination of pasta and veggies. Lettuce and pasta goes together like newlyweds when paired properly. Large hunks of pasta like ziti would never work with this recipe. What you need is the right sized bite of pasta to go with the chopped veggies.
That’s why ditalini is the perfect pasta shape for this recipe. Ditalini is Italian for little thimbles. Anything bigger than ditalini would overwhelm the dish. Anything smaller would get lost and fall to the bottom of the salad bowl. Ditalini, which can be found on most grocer’s shelves, is the perfect size to complement the rest of the chopped ingredients in this delectable salad. Yes, I used the word delectable in the same sentence as salad. It is possible.
And did I mention that there are bits of crispy bacon mixed in? My bad. Yup, there’s bacon. Everything is better with bacon. You need to make this salad. Make it for the ones you love. Make it for yourself. Or heck, come here and make it for me because we polished the bowl off during dinner tonight. It’s really that good.
- 8 cups romaine lettuce, chopped
- 4 cups ditalini pasta, cooked al dente and cooled
- 4 cups red cabbage, finely chopped
- 1 cup tomatoes, diced
- ½ cup scallions, diced
- ½ cup bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
- ½ cup blue cheese, crumbled
- 1 cup mayo
- ½ cup white vinegar
- ¼ cup milk
- 3 Tbsp sugar
- 1½ Tbsp brown spicy mustard
- 1½ Tbsp honey
- 1 tsp salt
- lots of fresh ground black pepper
- Place all salad ingredients in a large bowl and toss to combine.
- Whisk dressing ingredients in a medium size bowl and pour over salad. Toss to coat. Serve with lots of fresh cracked black pepper.