Sichuan Pasta Salad – East meets West

Pasta salads are easy to make but I rarely enjoy them. My favorites are Asian, particularly sesame noodles, which I like for their bold seasoning and when they are made with Asian pasta because I find their texture in cold dishes more appealing.

Spaghetti, fusilli and other shapes of Italian pasta do not work as well for me in cold dishes because, compared to Asian noodles, their texture is hard. Pleasing as Italian pasta is when paired with hot and hearty tomato sauce or coated with lighter cream sauces, it can come off doughy and tough when served cold.

Differences in the flour help explain this. Asian cooks use softer, more finely milled flour, while Italian pasta is made with semolina flour from hard durum wheat. In addition to its coarser texture, semolina flour is higher in gluten, the protein that gives bread and pasta their structure. The higher the gluten content, the firmer the dough a given flour will make.

Because of this higher protein content, and because Asian noodles are not readily available, I set out to create an outstanding salad using semolina pasta. This also lets you take advantage of pasta’s super-affordable price.

For a pasta salad with intense flavor, I chose Sichuan seasoning. Rather than fiery dried chile peppers, I was inspired by an older way to create the heat we associate with this region. Before chiles arrived late in the 17th Century, Sichuan cooks created heat by combining ginger, garlic and Sichuan peppercorns. Known for their mouth-numbing sensation, these peppercorns are actually dried flower buds you must toast and grind. Its unique floral aroma is worth the work, but happily, using regular black pepper generously is delicious, too.

Bow-tie pasta, also called farfalle, is my first choice but linguini is also good, especially when you serve this dish with the dressing still warm.

Sichuan Pasta Salad - Makes 4 servings.

2 cups 1-inch broccoli florets
2 cups bow-tie pasta
1 cup diced red bell pepper
1 Tbsp. canola oil
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. minced ginger
3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp. roasted sesame oil
1/4 cup chopped scallions, green and white parts

In a large pot of boiling water, cook the broccoli for 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the broccoli to a colander and place under cold running water until the florets are chilled. Drain well and transfer the broccoli to a mixing bowl.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package directions until it is al dente. Drain the pasta in the colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Add the pasta to the broccoli. Add the red pepper to the pasta and broccoli.

Heat the oil in a small saucepan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and ginger and swirl the pan until they are fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper and cook until the vinegar boils, 1 minute. Off the heat, add the sesame oil, swirling to blend, then pour the hot dressing over the pasta and vegetables. Using a fork, toss to combine the salad and dressing. Add the scallions and serve the pasta salad immediately, or cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.

The Author:

“Something Different” is written by Dana Jacobi, author of 12 Best Foods Cookbook and contributor to AICR’s New American Plate Cookbook: Recipes for a Healthy Weight and a Healthy Life.

AICR offers a Nutrition Hotline (1-800-843-8114). Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET, Monday-Friday, this free service allows you to ask a registered dietitian questions about diet, nutrition and cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research is the only major cancer charity focusing exclusively on the link between diet, nutrition and cancer. The Institute provides a wide range of education programs that help millions of Americans learn to make changes for lower cancer risk. AICR also supports innovative research in cancer prevention and treatment at universities, hospitals and research centers across the U.S. The Institute has provided more than $57 million in funding for research in diet, nutrition and cancer. AICR's Web address is www.aicr.org.

Recipe Posted: April 26, 2009

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