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Ina Garten’s Simple Trick for Hands Down the Best Pasta Salad Ever

Remember a few years ago when the whole world (including me, reluctantly) was making the viral tomato and feta pasta? It was so popular that grocery stores around the world sold out of feta cheese!

What I think is that the dish, while eye-catching on the gram, wasn't very good. For me, feta is perfect plain, preferably cubed or crumbled. It's not meant to melt into a sauce.

The flavor profile of the recipe made a lot of sense, though. Tomatoes and feta go hand in hand, but when it comes to pairing them with pasta, they work much better in a cold salad, IMHO.

Ina Garten has known this for a long time. Her recipe for tomato and feta pasta salad has been around since 2012, back when Instagram was still a photo-sharing app (remember that?!). This recipe sets the bar pretty high for pasta salad.

How to make Ina's Tomato and Feta Pasta Salad

First, Ina's mix-to-dough ratio is high. While most pasta salad recipes call for a full pound of pasta, this recipe only calls for eight ounces. It's more like a salad than a bowl of cold pasta with vegetables and cheese. I like to use tri-colored fusilli, but any short pasta shape will do.

Now for the mix-ins! The recipe calls for a pound of tomatoes, so they should be tasty. In summer, I use tomatoes on the vine. If the tomatoes aren't at their peak, I use cherry tomatoes which tend to be more flavorful out of season. If I make this recipe in advance, I stir in the tomatoes just before serving so they don't get mushy or mealy.

For feta, opt for the good stuff packaged in brine, which will come in handy later! While I'm a firm believer that there's no such thing as too much cheese, a whole pound might be too much for some. You can reduce this amount to eight ounces if that better suits your budget and taste.

Now for the fun stuff! The recipe gets a burst of briny umami flavor from the sun-dried tomatoes and Kalamata olives. They add hints of salt that make this salad incredibly hard to stop eating.

Last but not least, there is the dressing room. This is where things start to get interesting. The first few times I made this dish, I made the dressing as written and it came out pretty much perfect. A combination of red wine vinegar, capers, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and olive oil brings just the right balance of brightness and sweetness to the dish.

Simple recipes / Molly Adams

How I modify Ina's pasta salad recipe

According to the recipe, once you've combined your pasta, mix-ins, and dressing, you finish with a generous amount of parsley and grated Parmesan. While this worked well, I started mixing my parsley and parmesan with the other vinaigrette ingredients to create a cross between a pesto and a tapenade.

To help it mix, I also add a little feta brine and pasta cooking water, which creates a nice consistency that coats the pasta thoroughly. This keeps the salad fresher in the refrigerator and also prevents dressing from pooling at the bottom of the mixing bowl as it sits.

One thing to note: this dish contains a lot of very salty ingredients. To avoid over seasoning, I use a little less salt to cook the pasta than I normally would. Additionally, I wait to add additional salt to the dressing until I taste the entire mixture.

If you find the salad too salty, add a little fresh lemon juice to sweeten it up. Or add something neutral in flavor like crunchy cucumbers or even peppery baby arugula to add balance and a bit of green.

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