If there were another way to spell summer, it might well be p-a-s-t-a s-a-l-a-d. It's the quintessential side dish for any grilled meat, and I make it often. But using the same recipe year after year gets pretty dull.
There's nothing wrong with my recipe. In fact, I always have people asking me for it, and like most pasta salads, it's really quite simple — nothing more than pasta, onions, green pepper and capers tossed with zesty Italian dressing. Sometimes I throw in some thinly sliced hard salami. But that's it. So when it came time for another pasta salad, I put my thinking cap on and came up with one that was a marriage of several recipes I've tried and put to the side. This one, though, is a keeper.
The mixture of barbecue sauce and ranch dressing is nothing new, but I'd never tried it in a pasta salad. Barbecue sauce adds a wonderful smoky flavor, while the ranch dressing adds a cooling touch. Pastas such as campanelle or colorful spiral are a good choice for pasta salads as the sauce adheres to their ridges and hides beneath their folds, making it easier to spoon onto a plate and have flavor with every bite. Now, add black beans, corn and avocado, and the pasta salad takes on a Mexican edge. The crowning touch is a topping of shredded cheese and corn chips, but wait until right before serving to add the chips. There's nothing more unappetizing than a soggy corn chip. Or put a bowl out filled with chips and let people add their own. Avocado provides not only nutritional value, but a soft bite that works well with the crunch of the chips, green pepper, corn and pasta cooked to an al dente stage.
It's kind of scary to serve something new to a crowd, using them as guinea pigs, but I felt so certain this pasta salad would be a hit, I took the chance and was right on the mark. The recipe makes a lot, and I was counting on leftovers for the next day — pasta salad is so much better eaten a day later — but there were none to be had.
A beautiful thing about this salad, other than its taste and simplicity, is the fact that it can easily be turned into a main dish with the addition of chicken. This is an excellent way to use up that leftover rotisserie chicken in your refrigerator. It's like barbecued chicken in a bowl and a wonderful midweek meal when you're looking for something cold to serve on a hot summer night.
Barbecue Ranch Pasta Salad
1 pound pasta, such as campanelle
1/2 cup hickory barbecue sauce
1/2 cup ranch dressing
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste (optional)
1 avocado, diced
1 cup corn, fresh or frozen
1 medium-size sweet onion, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Shredded cheddar cheese
In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain and transfer to large serving bowl.
Make dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together barbecue sauce, ranch dressing and sour cream. Taste and add more barbecue sauce or ranch dressing, depending on your taste preference. Add red pepper flakes if you want to spice things up.
To bowl, add pasta, avocado, corn, onion, green pepper and black beans. Add enough dressing to bind the salad, and toss until well combined. Season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with any sauce if you have any left over, or drizzle with plain barbecue sauce. Refrigerate, covered, until chilled. Top with shredded cheese and corn chips immediately before serving. Alternately, serve chips in a bowl on the side and let people add their own to keep them from getting soggy.
Tip: Add shredded chicken to turn this salad into a main-dish meal.
NEW ON THE MENU
When was the last time you dined at Broad Street Grille? For me, it was two weeks ago, but the memory is still fresh on my mind. The menu is new and scaled down to no more than six entrees, but each stands out on its own, showing the culinary creativity of the restaurant's new executive chef, Tanner Marino.
I had the Black Grouper, served with creamy polento and summer squash. My husband had the Rib-Eye Done Two Ways, which serves the whole rib and the deckle cut into strips, both as tender and delicious as a filet. Both were equally delicious, but its side dish — lobster mac and cheese — was outstanding. The best I've ever had, chock-full of big pieces of lobster. The rib-eye is also served with a generous side of grilled broccoli that was amazing as well.
With all the new restaurants opening in town, sometimes we tend to forget about some of those places that have stood the test of time. Broad Street Grille has been a downtown mainstay since opening more that 15 years ago, but it's never stopped changing — only for the better and never satisfied with the status quo.
NEW ON THE MARKET
Cherries are by far my favorite fruit, but I've always had a love-hate relationship with them because pitting them is a pain. And no one has as of yet developed a pitless cherry. I figure some clever food scientist will at some point, since they've managed to create seedless watermelons, but until that time, there is a new tool for removing them.
Now that cherry season is in full swing, you might consider investing a few dollars to buy one. There are a number of cherry pitters on the market, but the new Quickpit Cherry Pitter from Chef'n is the least-expensive, most effective pitter I've found. Just put the cherry in the pitter, pull the trigger and out pops the pit. It makes pitting cherries child's play — literally. The kids will love it, and you will, too.
The Quickpit sells for under $8 at Williams-Sonoma or around $12 at amazon.com.
Contact Anne Braly at firstname.lastname@example.org.