The thrill of my week is perusing the new products’ shelf of my local Trader Joe’s. (Listen, your thirties are weird like that.) Artisanal ketchup from Italy? Yes, please. S’mores Clusters? You’re coming home with me.
One type of product I always keep an eye out for on this shelf is TJ’s limited-edition pasta. I’m talking premium, organic, made in Italy, durum wheat, bronze-extruded, delicious pasta; and the shapes are always fun and interesting.
Right now—and for a limited time—Trader Joe’s is carrying Organic Pasta Quintet for $1.99 a pound. It features five unique pasta shapes in a single bag. You’ll get mini versions of fusilli, wheels, shells, cavatappi, and spirals. And don’t worry, they all cook at the same time.
While this artisanal pasta would be good in just about any recipe, my favorite way to use it is in pasta salads. Since each of the five shapes is intricately textured, you get lots of nooks and crannies for chopped herbs, cheeses, olives, and dressing to snug into, giving you a perfect bite every time. Since it won’t be around for long, I plan to stock up while I can.
The 5 Rules I Follow When Making Pasta Salad
Summer is peak pasta salad season and Trader Joe’s understands this. That’s why pasta salad is how TJ’s recommends enjoying the Pasta Quintet.
Here are five pasta salad rules I live by:
1. Don’t overcook the pasta. This could be said about any pasta recipe, but there is nothing worse than a soggy pasta salad. The pasta is going to sit in a dressing, so the texture will soften as it sits. It’s best to cook the pasta al dente.
2. Toss the pasta with the dressing while it is still warm. The pasta will better absorb the dressing, rather than the dressing just pooling at the bottom of the bowl.
3. All ingredients should be similarly sized. In a lot of cases, you’re eating pasta salad at a BBQ while juggling kids, crowds, and unstable paper plates. Make sure the pasta salad is easy to eat. The best way is to cut all of the mix-ins so they are the same size as the pasta.
4. Remember these five flavors. I don’t often follow a recipe to make pasta salad, but I do always add the following five flavors every pasta salad needs:
- Salty: I generously salt the pasta cooking water because no one likes bland pasta. I also include briny ingredients like olives, canned artichokes, or capers.
- Bitter: At least one kind of fresh herbs is a must—basil, dill, parsley, chives, etc.
- Sweet: I like to use fresh tomatoes if they are in season, as well as a little honey in the dressing.
- Umami: Feta cheese is my go-to, plus it keeps well when mixed into a salad.
- Sour/Tart: I love fresh lemon juice and a hit of red wine vinegar in the dressing.
5. Keep it hearty. You want to use ingredients that won’t wilt and become sad as they sit. If you want to add fresh greens like baby arugula or baby spinach, toss those in right before serving. The same goes for avocado or fresh basil, no one wants to eat a pasta salad that has gone brown.