Many years ago, I traveled to the Cape with my aunt Marcy to see my Great Aunt Phyllis’ family. I don’t remember much of our short visit except that I returned home with the recipe for a pasta salad that we soon named after my cousin, Kristina, who had prepared the salad for us during our visit. That summer and for many summers that followed, we prepared this salad often — it’s particularly good warm, when the just-boiled shells melt the cheese, just slightly cook the tomatoes and soak up all the flavors of the olive oil and lemon juice.
Also, feel free to make adjustments based on your preferences: feta may have been used in place of mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes in place of the roasted red peppers, etc. This salad can also be prepared ahead and served at room temperature — it tastes better the longer it sits in fact.
Kristina’s Pasta Salad
Serves 6 to 8 as a side
1 lb. shells
½ cup pine nuts
1 pint grape tomatoes
1 bunch scallions (finely diced red onion is nice, too)
3 roasted red peppers (or used jarred)
2 balls (large size) or a small tub of ciliegine mozzarella
1 bunch basil
extra-virgin olive oil
fresh cracked pepper
1 lemon, halved
freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and a large pinch of kosher salt. Cook about 8 minutes or until done but not mushy. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, place pine nuts in a small skillet over low heat. Toast, stirring often to avoid burning. Remove from heat when evenly golden brown. Set aside.
2. Cut grape tomatoes in half lengthwise. Remove ends from scallions and discard. Chop thinly, using mostly the white and pale green parts (some of the dark green is ok, too). Chop the roasted red peppers into small strips. Cut the mozzarella into cubes about the same size as the cherry tomatoes (or if you are using the ciliegine, use them whole or slice in half). Set aside.
3. Place pasta in a large bowl. Drizzle olive oil over pasta until nicely coated. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add all of the prepared ingredients. Remove tiny leaves from basil stems and add directly to the bowl. Stack four to five larger basil leaves on top of one another. Roll into a tight spiral, then cut into thin strips. Add to the bowl. Squeeze the lemon over the top of the whole mixture starting with just one half. Add a few handfuls of the grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Toss gently with a large spoon. Taste, add more salt, pepper, olive oil or lemon juice if necessary.