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  • Writer's picturedeborahreinhardt

Italian Deli Rotelle Pasta Salad

Make this versatile dish as a side at your next barbecue or for a picnic meal.

Recipe is an excerpt from my cookbook, Three Women in the Kitchen.

Italian Deli Rotelle Pasta Salad
Italian Deli Rotelle Pasta Salad is ready for your next cookout or picnic in about 30 minutes.

Who wants to go on a picnic, because I have the perfect salad for the basket.

Whether you’re heading to the park, the beach, or your backyard patio with friends and family, make this dish to take along. You can have it ready in about 30 minutes.

Maybe you have a similar Italian pasta salad recipe in your arsenal, and who among us hasn’t made (or tasted) macaroni salad with mayonnaise dressing? While pasta certainly is Italian, pasta salads—noodles with veggies, meat, and cheese combined with a dressing—are very American, and they’ve been around for a long time.

Macaroni salad recipes were in newspapers and cookbooks as early as 1914. A Washington Post recipe in the 1930s tagged the dish “mock potato salad.” I guess pasta salad could be a cousin to potato salad.

But unlike the heavy mayonnaise salads, this pasta salad—inspired by the corner Italian deli—can safely be kept in a chilled cooler for the afternoon. It’s great served at room temperature. It’s also a versatile dish; you can make it if you have to clean out some vegetables that have been in your crisper for a week or so.

Mom’s recipe that we often toted to our annual church picnic at Sylvan Springs park in St. Louis County includes broccoli, cauliflower, green onions, a grated carrot, and black olives. But my crisper and pantry were out of carrots and olives, so I easily substituted what I had. The fridge was short on provolone cheese, but I had Provel—that crazy cheese blend that hails from St. Louis—so that went into the salad.

For this recipe, you’ll need:

2 cups dried rotelle pasta (the little wagon wheels)

Hard salami

Provolone (or your choice of cheese)

Broccoli and cauliflower florets

Green onion (or substitute with any other onion; leeks would work well, too)

Grated Parmesan cheese

Italian salad dressing (I used bottled dressing)


Grape tomatoes

Salt and pepper to taste

Fresh basil for garnish (optional)

If you don’t have rotelle in the pantry, rotini (the little corkscrews) or even macaroni would work. Any shorter shape, really, can be used in this dish. What’s important is that you cook the pasta until it’s just tender; nobody wants mushy pasta salad. Also, drain the pasta and run cold water over it for about a minute or so. Your Italian grandma will haunt you in your sleep, but it’s a necessary step to stop the pasta from cooking.

Another tip is to add the broccoli and cauliflower florets into the pasta water for the last two minutes. This will blanch the veggies and give broccoli a beautiful deep green color.

While the pasta and veggies are cooking, dice the cucumber, onion, and salami. You can either cut the grape tomatoes in half or toss them in whole. If, like me, you were out of scallions and have a little trouble digesting raw purple, white, or yellow onions, try soaking the chopped onions in ice water for about 20 minutes. It does tone their heat down a little.

For the dressing, I started with a half cup (Mom's recipe called for 1 cup) because I prefer salads that are lightly dressed. But this makes a huge bowl of pasta salad, so I added ¼ cup more and felt it was the perfect amount. Keep in mind the tomatoes and cucumbers will release some of their liquid into the salad, which was another reason I dressed on the lighter side.

Aside from the strong memories I have with this Italian pasta salad, it’s so comforting, thanks to the pasta and cheeses. The crunch of just-blanched and raw vegetables, the sweet tomatoes, and the hum of raw onions or scallions round out this dish that hits every note. Should there be leftovers, store covered in the refrigerator for a day or two. The flavors tend to get better the next day.

Mom’s Italian Deli Rotelle Salad is a meal in itself, and when you pair it with grilled bread (I love to brush ciabatta with olive oil to grill in a pan, finish with a rub of garlic and a pinch of black pepper), fresh fruit, and a chilled glass of rose or a white wine, you may just break into song: “Summertime and the living is easy.”

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