According to a recent article in Men's Health Magazine, the masculinity of salads has always been suspect. I suppose it's true that if real men don't eat quiche, they probably shun salads as well. Especially to the extent that salad may conjure dainty lunches for ladies.
There's nothing dainty about pasta salads, those robust combinations of noodles, vegetables, and often cheese and meat, bound together by a distinctively flavored dressing. When it comes to one of these, making do with a salad for lunch -- or possibly dinner -- becomes thinkable, even to me.
Pasta, of course, is associated with Italy where they take it very seriously. But pasta salad is actually more American than Italian. Italians generally prefer their pasta hot and served as a separate course. While cold macaroni salads, the unpretentious precursors of today's pasta salads have been staples of American cookbooks for years.
Pasta itself has an ancient history. Contrary to popular belief, it was not introduced to Italy by Marco Polo. 3,000 year old dyes for pasta had been discovered in Sicily where residents were making and eating macaroni a couple of thousand years before Marco Polo was even born.
When making a pasta salad, keep these three rules in mind. First, make sure you don't overcook the pasta. Second, rinse the pasta in cold water; normally this a procedure you should avoid with just about any other pasta dish, but it's necessary when preparing a salad to keep the pasta from cooking further. Third, choose your brand of pasta carefully. Pasta is cheap anyway, so I recommend spending a few extra pennies on a name brand that you can trust. After all, you want your pasta salad to be decidedly macho.
Insalata Caprese, the classic tomato and mozzarella salad from Capri is, I have happily discovered, found everywhere in Italy, sort of the equivalent (in ubiquity only) of our chef salad. Invented in the 1950's at the Trattoria da Vincenzo, it consists simply of tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella drizzled with olive oil. The following recipe from Bon Appetit magazine is for a "pastafied" version of the salad.
1 and 1/2 pounds plum tomatoes, seeded, coarsely chopped
8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1 x 1/2 inch strips
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
12 ounces penne pasta
Mix tomatoes, mozzarella, oil, and vinegar in medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper and let stand one hour at room temperature. Mix in basil. Cook pasta, drain, add tomato mixture and toss gently to blend. Serves 4.