Wednesday, August 7, 2013

7 Layer Pasta Salad

7 Layer Pasta Salad
Layered salads are great for entertaining and holidays, from baby showers to birthdays, Christmas to barbecue season, and really versatile enough that you can pretty much theme them flavor-wise to anything from basic, to Asian, to Italian or Tex-Mex.

This version is a play off the basic old fashioned 7-layer salad, with a bit of variation in the layered ingredients and the dressing, and the addition of some meat protein. I had some leftover rotisserie chicken, so for me it was chicken this time, but chopped turkey or julienned ham are both wonderful, and if you want to go with seafood, shrimp, crawfish or crab stand in nicely too.

You'll want to cook the pasta al dente, so that it still has a bit of tooth to it, and rinse it when you drain it. Rinsing the pasta stops the cooking process but also removes much of the starch and stickiness, which unlike a sauced pasta dish, you do not need here. I'm not a fan of raw broccoli in salads, so I prefer to blanch it first. Just blanch it in the water that you are boiling for your pasta first, only about a minute or so, then remove and plunge into iced water to stop the cooking process, and add your pasta to the water.

The ingredients listed here are basic suggestions, so use what you like, but definitely layer this in a clear bowl, so that all colorful layers show. I wrote the ingredient amounts according to the trifle bowl my Uncle Jim gave me, which holds about 3 quarts, but this is one of those dishes that you can just adjust ingredients up or down according to the size bowl you are using.

Here's how to make it.

Mix the salad dressing ingredients and set aside. You may also substitute a bottled Ranch dressing if you prefer. I had leftover Hidden Valley Bacon Ranch salad dressing that I needed to use up, so that's what I used. With a bottled dressing, just omit the mayonnaise and buttermilk, but add in the parsley, sugar, green onion, Cajun seasoning and black pepper.

Blend and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add plenty of salt. Add the raw broccoli, return to a boil and let cook for about a minute. Remove and plunge the broccoli into iced water to stop the cooking process, but reserve the water for cooking the pasta.

Add the pasta and cook al dente according to the package directions. I used bowties, but use whatever you have on hand. Cooked cheese tortellini are a great addition to this salad. Drain and rinse pasta with cold water to stop the cooking process; set aside until cooled and no longer steaming. When ready to prepare the salad, toss the pasta with 2 tablespoons of the dressing mix.

To layer the salad, add thinly shredded lettuce to the bottom of a clear bowl.

Top that with whatever meat you're using - I used some leftover, chopped rotisserie chicken, but chopped turkey or julienned ham are also very good, as are shrimp, crawfish or crab. Leave this layer off or substitute some well drained canned beans, if you prefer to go meatless.

Add the layer of broccoli. Instead of raw, I used thawed frozen broccoli this time that I needed to use up.

And the pasta.

Then peas. I used basic, thawed frozen green peas.

Remove the seeds from the tomatoes and chop, draining off any excess liquid. You don't want the juices from the tomatoes making your salad too soggy.

Add the chopped tomatoes to the salad.

Top with the shredded cheese. Use whatever cheese you prefer, and it can be either shredded or cubed. I had some leftover preshredded mixed cheese I had purchased for something, so I needed to use that up. Interesting. Guess this salad was a "use it up" salad, wasn't it?

Pour the remaining dressing over the top of the cheese and carefully spread it out. Refrigerate until you're ready to serve.

Garnish with the bacon and sliced green onion before serving. I am using both of these as a garnish, so I didn't go too heavy, but if you'd like more, go for it! Top with a little more shredded cheese if you'd like too.

Dig in and enjoy!