The secret to getting the perfect texture in this Italian pasta salad is to overcook the noodles to well beyond the al dente (or “to the tooth”) we've long been taught to strive for. Through a process called retrogradation, the pasta naturally chills to tender and still-springy, not dry or stiff. A thick Italian dressing (thanks to blending pickled ingredients like pepperoncini and capers with quick garlic oil infused in the microwave) coats the noodles and stays punchy even when making the pasta salad ahead. You'll want to stir the arugula and basil in at the last minute, but even those can be washed, dried, and chopped ahead of time, then stored airtight with a damp paper towel to keep them perky. This recipe serves a crowd, but if you have leftovers, they are excellent crisped up in a nonstick skillet, or used as the base for a pasta frittata, or just eaten cold straight out of the fridge—no stiff noodles in sight. This genius trick also makes for a handy fix for overcooked noodles: If you accidentally find yourself with gluey, gummy, not-at-all al dente pasta, you can save it by rinsing with cold water and then serving it cold with a very good dressing—ideal for picnics, potlucks, and desk lunches alike. Recipe adapted very slightly from Cooks Illustrated and Associate Editor Anne Petito (September 2018). —Genius Recipes
8 to 10 as a side dish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
extra-virgin olive oil
garlic cloves, minced
anchovy fillets, rinsed, patted dry, and minced
red pepper flakes
pepperoncini, stemmed, plus 2 tablespoons brine
(2 cups) baby arugula
chopped fresh basil
oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, sliced thin
pitted kalamata olives, quartered
salami, cut into ⅜-inch dice
fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into ⅜-inch dice and patted dry
Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until pasta is tender throughout, 2 to 3 minutes past al dente. 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 liquid measuring cup. Cover and microwave until bubbling and fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds. Set aside.
Slice half of pepperoncini into thin rings and set aside. Transfer remaining 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 arugula, basil, tomatoes, olives, salami, mozzarella, and reserved pepperoncini and toss well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve. (Salad can be refrigerated for up to 3 days, but be sure to stir in the basil and the arugula just before serving. Let come to room temperature before serving.)
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