- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 27, 2003

This is the season for graduations and a time for celebrating the new degrees of our young — and sometimes older — scholars, whether for completion of high school, college or university.

At Amherst College where my husband teaches, the graduating seniors use the weekend of their commencement to hold outdoor fetes for family and friends. The campus is dotted with huge tents under which bountiful buffets are arranged. The special menus, which reflect a wide variety of cuisines, typically must serve 50 to 100 guests.

For these festivities, make-ahead dishes that can be increased to feed a crowd are necessary. Such recipes are not easy to come by, but one recent day, while looking through “The Way We Cook” (Houghton Mifflin), an attractive new cookbook by Boston writers Sheryl Julian and Julie Riven, I discovered a corn and pasta salad.

The simple ingredients — fresh corn, red bell peppers, sweet onions and garden herbs — and the makings for an easy dressing — cider vinegar, Dijon mustard and canola oil — were so enticing that I decided to assemble this warm-weather creation early the next morning.

At lunch the same day, two friends and I devoured most of the colorful melange along with grilled burgers.

Both of my fellow diners immediately asked for the recipe, then left to prepare the dish for their families.

I realized in a flash that this salad, which serves six generously, could easily be doubled or tripled and would be ideal for a graduation party.

The corn and pasta mixture was still irresistible several hours after having been made and was equally good when sampled the next day.

Besides burgers, this side dish would make a fine accompaniment to barbecued chicken or ribs, to grilled steaks or chops or to a baked, sliced ham served at room temperature.

A single recipe calls for eight ears of corn, so if you are increasing the amounts substantially, you might want to ask some of those graduates you are honoring to help shuck the corn and slice off the kernels.

Corn and pasta salad

This recipe is adapted from “The Way We Cook.”

Coarse salt

2 cups tiny pasta shells (see Note)

8 ears fresh corn, kernels removed from the cobs (about 6 cups)

cup cider vinegar, plus more to taste

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

cup canola oil

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped

red onion, finely chopped

4 scallions, finely chopped

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil.

Add the pasta shells and, when the water returns to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-high and simmer for 6 minutes.

Add the corn and cook for 2 minutes more, or until the pasta is tender but still somewhat firm to the bite.Drain in a colander, shaking it to remove the excess moisture.

Transfer shells and corn to a large bowl.

In another bowl, whisk together vinegar, mustard, teaspoon salt and pepper.

Gradually whisk in the oil in a slow, steady stream, until the dressing emulsifies. Pour dressing over the warm pasta and corn and stir gently to coat.

Add the bell pepper, onion, scallions, parsley and oregano. Season with more salt and pepper and another splash of vinegar, if desired.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour so that the flavors have time to mellow before serving.

The salad can be prepared 5 hours ahead; keep refrigerated and bring to room temperature 30 minutes before serving.

Note: I used DeCecco’s orecchiette (small pasta shells), which worked beautifully in this recipe.


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