This is not your traditional pasta salad. It’s way better.
I grew up with the classic Italian pasta salad being served at every party. You know the one…tri-color pasta tossed with cubes of salami, red & green peppers, black olives (the kind in the can), provolone and everything is covered in bottled Italian dressing. I have eaten this pasta salad enough in my day that I am more than happy to never eat it again, and haven’t considered making it in years, but I recently came across a recipe that made me fall back in love with Italian pasta salad and it’s SO much better!
I came across this recipe while watching an episode of America’s Test Kitchen where they discussed the common problems with traditional pasta salad such as soggy vegetables, tasteless dressings, texture inconsistency, lack of creativity, and uneven distribution of ingredients. The ingredients, while similar to the more common Italian pasta salad described above, are much more robust and elevated. They referred to the ingredients in this salad as “antipasti inspired” and I love that!
The dressing is made from garlic and anchovy infused extra virgin olive oil that is then blended with spicy pepperoncini peppers & salty capers. It’s delicious! It is all then tossed with antipasti inspired ingredients like olives, sundered tomatoes, mozzarella and salami.
A note on anchovies. I know I probably just turned a lot of people off from this recipe with that scary word “anchovy,” but you have no idea how often anchovies are used in restaurant cooking, dressings and condiments and you don’t even know it. In the case of this pasta salad, they melt into the oil and you won’t even know they are there but you will notice the depth of umami that the anchovy brings to the party. I don’t understand these people who hate on anchovies, but if you are one of them, I think you just need to get over it. You’re missing a world of flavor.
I agree with America’s Test kitchen’s recommendation on selecting salami. We both prefer a small, individually packaged, dry Italian-style salami. However if it is unavailable, you can ask the deli counter for thick cuts of Genoa salami and then cube it. But the quality is of cold cut style salami is not as good as individual packaged sausage style salamis.
- 1 pound fusilli
- Salt and pepper
- 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3-5 garlic cloves minced (depends on your tolerance for garlic.)
- 5-6 anchovy fillets rinsed, patted dry, and minced
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 cup pepperoncini stemmed, plus 2 tablespoons brine
- 3 tablespoons capers rinsed
- 2 ounces 2 cups baby arugula
- 1 cup chopped fresh basil
- ½ cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes sliced thin
- ½ cup pitted kalamata olives quartered
- 8 ounces salami cut into ⅜-inch dice
- 16 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese cut into ⅜-inch dice and patted dry
Slice half of pepperoncini into thin rings and set aside.
Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until pasta is tender. Drain pasta and rinse under cold water until chilled. Drain well and transfer to large bowl.
Meanwhile, combine oil, garlic, anchovies, and pepper flakes in a small sauce pan over a gentle heat just until bubbling. Remove from heat. DO NOT OVERCOOK. Set aside. (The purpose of this is just to infuse the oil with flavor and melt the anchovies.)
Transfer the whole pepperoncini to food processor. Add capers and pulse until finely chopped, 8 to 10 pulses, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add pepperoncini brine and warm oil mixture and process until combined, about 20 seconds.
Add dressing to pasta and toss to combine. Add tomatoes, olives, salami, mozzarella, and pepperoncini rings and toss well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Right before serving, toss with arugula & basil.
Make ahead – Salad can be refrigerated for up to 3 days but do not add the basil or arugula. Let the salad come to room temperature and then toss the arugula and basil right before serving.