My grandpa was a quiet man of simple tastes with a heart of gold. He was content to let my grandma, our family’s social butterfly and current queen bee at her assisted living home, do all the talking. During family gatherings, he would sit in the midst of the chaos created by his large family and calmly observe, the eye at the center of the Pisani storm. He noticed things about us that we didn’t realize. We would later hear from my grandma what he thought of a new haircut or boyfriend. He loved to be the center of attention, though he would never seek the spotlight. When he turned 90, all five of his sons gathered from across the country to celebrate. I remember as we sat at his 90th birthday dinner, how the happiness and pride he felt at being celebrated by his family shone through his smile. As was his way, he didn’t need to put it into words.
When it came to food and drink, Grandpa knew what he liked. Peanut brittle, red meat and his daily chili dog and beer from his club. The free lollipops from the bank that I’m pretty sure were meant for little kids. Like any true Italian, he loved his wine. At family dinners, a wine bottle somehow always came to rest near his spot. If my grandma caught him lifting the bottle to go in for a refill, he would defend himself by saying “I’m just reading the label!” Sure…me too, Grandpa, me too. He also loved olives from the olive bar at the grocery store. Any time we went to visit, my dad would bring a container of olives for Grandpa to enjoy. I’m pretty sure this Olive Bar Pasta Salad recipe would be a hit with him.
This pasta salad is a perfect summer potluck dish. You can pick up everything you need from the olive bar at the grocery store, meaning it comes together in a flash. Briny olives, creamy mozzarella and whatever other goodies you choose. I added artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, marinated mushrooms and roasted red peppers. I also added in a diced cucumber for its’ crisp texture and freshness.The dressing is an update on the typical mayo-heavy pasta salad dressing, brightened up with white balsamic vinegar. And the end result? Divine. I’ve been sneaking bites of it every time I go into the fridge.
I’ll enjoy my next helping with a glass of wine to toast my grandpa.Then I’ll “read the label” and go back for more.
Olive Bar Pasta Salad
- 1 lb dried pasta (I used Girelle– Farfalle, Orchiette or Rotini would also work well)
- 3.5-4 cups assorted olives, tomatoes, artichokes, peppers, etc. from grocery store olive bar
- 8 oz. mini fresh mozzarella balls (you can also use the mozzarella in the olive bar)
- 1 large cucumber, seeded and coarsely chopped
- 1/4 c. chopped basil leaves
- White Balsamic Pasta Salad Dressing:
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
- 2 Tbsp mayonaise (I used light)
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 4 roasted garlic cloves- from olive bar
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp oregano
- 2 tsp honey
- black pepper, to taste
Cook pasta in boiling water, 1-2 minutes longer than package directions. Pasta should not be al dente. Drain pasta and rinse under cold running water until cool.
While pasta is cooking, chop olive bar ingredients. If mozzarella balls are on the large side, cut them in half. Place olive bar ingredients, cheese and chopped cucumber in large bowl.
In small bowl, whisk dressing ingredients together until smooth.
When pasta is cool, add to large bowl with olive bar ingredients, cheese and cucumber. Toss with dressing until well incorporated. Add chopped basil. Chill at least 2-3 hours before serving.
Serves 8-10 as a side.
To serve as a main course, you could add chickpeas, grilled chicken or grilled shrimp.
Love you, Grandpa.