I have a confession to make: most of the spices in my cupboard remain unlabeled. A few months back I actually cleaned out my spice stash, threw out the stuff I knew was wayyy beyond fresh, reorganized, and created more counter space. I have this carousel spice rack from which I emptied all the jars and put the basic spices I had on hand in a number of them, bought a few more to add to the collection, and then… well, that’s as far as I got.
See, I know what they are. I know what oregano smells like; I know the consistency of onion powder versus garlic powder. Paprika is a touch courser and the slightest bit darker than cayenne. Cumin is clumpier than coriander. I just know, and since I’m the one who uses them the most, well, I just haven’t gotten around to it. It’s completely inconsiderate of me as I know that my husband would gladly make supper on Mondays when he’s off of work, but I think the lack of labeling scares him off. That, and I’m often home before it’s time to start supper. But that’s beside the point.
The show must go on. There are dinners to make, lunches to eat, parties for which to bring a side, and desserts to be enjoyed by family and friends. This Italian pasta salad has never failed me. It comes together quite quickly and easily and is completely customizable to your taste or the taste of your audience, though I would argue that the bacon is non-negotiable. It’s great as a side dish or has enough heft to stand on its own as a main dish, especially with some cubed cooked chicken tossed in.
But it’s really the dressing that makes it. A good homemade Italian dressing is golden on pasta, greens, or a torn loaf of crusty bread, and more often than not, you have the ingredients on hand. Chances are pretty good that yours are also labeled.
- 16 oz. rotini (or other short cut pasta of choice)
- 8 oz. bacon
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 16 oz. can beans, drained and rinsed (I like kidney beans or Great Northern in this salad)
- 1 small green pepper, chopped (about 1 cup)
- 1 can diced tomatoes, lightly drained (a little remaining liquid is okay)
- 1/4 cup sliced black olives
- 1 cup shredded or cubed cheddar or mozzarella cheese
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (or add additional white or apple cider)
- 1/4 cup white or apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup vegetable or olive oil
- 2 tsp. dried basil
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 2 tsp. sugar
- 1 Tbsp. spicy brown mustard
- 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1 tsp. salt
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- Cook pasta in large pot, as directed on package. Drain and place in large bowl. Add balsamic vinegar and toss to coat.*
- Meanwhile, roughly chop bacon and place in single layer on microwavable plate. Cover with paper towel and cook in microwave for 3 minutes on high. Cook in additional 30 second intervals until crisp. Do not toss bacon grease. Add bacon, bacon grease (up to 3 Tbsp.), onions, beans, green pepper, olives, and tomatoes to pasta in large bowl. Toss.
- Place dressing ingredients in separate container and combine (a pint jar works well to shake ingredients). Pour over pasta mixture and toss to coat.
- Stir cheese into pasta. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper. If possible, let sit for at least an hour to allow flavors to blend. (You may also decide to add more basil, oregano, and a bit of garlic powder to round it out, too.)
*If just making the dressing to use for other dishes, add the balsamic vinegar to the rest of the dressing ingredients.