Lots of different summer daydreams inspire chefs to come up with the latest, greatest pasta salads: a ravenous bite of Mexican street corn, a ramble through grandma’s garden on a hot day, a sunny afternoon poolside with famous director and winemaker Francis Ford Coppola, a taste of Carolina barbecue and more. Here’s how these idyllic summer moments have become memorable menu items.
Read more: 8 pasta salads for a sublime summer
Building on a classic
Every summer, eating pasta salad and putting it on the menu takes Nick Salvagni back to days spent in his grandparents’ backyard garden. Salvagni, higher education marketing director with American Dining Creations, recalls “tomatoes, green peppers and cucumbers picked fresh and tossed with black olives, cheese, spiral macaroni and homemade Italian dressing.”
“For me, it’s more about the story and the ingredients than the salad itself,” he says. While Salvagni’s family pasta salad follows a true classic formula, the American Dining Creations accounts he oversees have found success with new ideas in pasta salad, including a riff on Mexican street corn (elotes) developed by David Young, Syracuse-based executive chef of education dining services for American Dining Creations.
“Elotes pasta salad pairs incredibly well with our Sabores Mexican concept,” Salvagni says. “We serve it often at our outdoor street food events and at end-of-year customer appreciation barbecues on all of our campuses.”
It’s easy to see why: The elote pasta salad is a celebration of color and flavor with char-grilled corn, diced avocado, shredded cotija cheese, chipotle pepper, black beans, green onion, Mexican crema and fresh lime juice, all folded into bow tie pasta and showered with fresh cilantro just before serving.
Blackened chicken penne pasta salad is another departure from the classic pasta salad blueprint, and it’s earned a space on the catering menu for American Dining Creations with a sophisticated mix of spinach, toasted walnuts, blue cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, blackened chicken and housemade poppy seed dressing.
Chefs come out and play
Using plain pasta as a blank canvas is one of the best parts of pasta salad season.
The Chef’s Playground at the Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH), a past FM Innovator of the Year
The BCH chefs ventured way outside the pasta salad box and combined maitake mushrooms, cucumbers, carrots, cherry tomatoes and thinly sliced radish with pasta and dressed with a white balsamic-shallot vinaigrette for a totally wow-worthy dish.
Lights, camera, pasta!
Another playground for chefs—California’s wine country—was the inspiration for the Rustic penne pasta salad developed by Greg Gerrard, executive chef with Thomas Cuisine for PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham, Wash.
One summer day, Gerrard was hanging out poolside at Rustic, the restaurant of the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, Calif., sipping wine and chatting under the shade of an oak tree with a group of people, including the famous director.
“He regaled us with tales of the culinary delights he had encountered over the years, which eventually led to the creation of the Rustic menu,” Gerrard says. This dreamlike California experience, in turn, led to the creation of the Rustic pasta salad for the hospital menu.
The salad definitely doesn’t disappoint: penne pasta, baby spinach, grape tomatoes, lots of roasted garlic, salty Parmesan cheese, whipped ricotta, oil, Italian balsamic vinegar, Tabasco sauce are pure magic together.
Gerrard is currently working on a new pasta salad that will feature macaroni, cheddar cheese curds, crispy pork belly with a dressing inspired by Carolina Gold barbecue sauce.
“Pasta salad should be simple ingredients with bold undertones that can both stimulate the senses and comfort the soul,” Gerrard says. Sounds like a great recipe for summer!
As soon as spring’s warm weather hits campus at the University of Richmond, the time is right for students to relax on the leafy campus lawns or take off into the surrounding Virginia countryside with a picnic lunch. Or maybe it’s just a quick break in between classes. Whichever the occasion, the U of R’s Tyler’s Grill location has pasta salads packed up and ready to go.
Caprese pasta salad has been a standout at Tyler’s Grill this past spring, with penne pasta, tomato, ribbons of fresh basil, crumbled feta cheese, red onion and balsamic vinaigrette in a packet on the side.
Orzo pasta salad at Lou’s Café is a campus favorite with bold Mediterranean flavors of feta, tomato, lemon, olive oil and red onion.