When I was a kid back in Brooklyn and North Woodmere, my Pop, who read 3 newspapers a day and watched the evening news with the devotion of a true Cronkite acolyte, told me something so crystal-clear brilliant, so profound, so prophetic, that it still holds true today. In one concise sentence, he summed up everything I would ever need to know about the election process:
Although my husband and I discuss politics habitually, I have never gotten past my Pop's words. I dislike the two-party system immensely; when I was a registered Democrat, I voted Republican, and when I finally got around to changing it to Republican, I voted for Bill Clinton. Twice. I don't like the second-tier parties either; the Libertarians talk a good game but are just plain weird; the Green Party bears the name of my second least favorite color, orange being the first, and the association with Ralph Nader remains off-putting; I am neither a Communist, Socialist, American Nazi (seriously?), or American Pirate (double seriously??) I joke around that I am a Rational Anarchist, like Professor Bernardo de la Paz, a character in Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, but I'm not sure what that really means, and anything with "anarchist" in the title is bound to attract the interest of whomever the White House has set to the task of spying on the internet.
So this year I dropped all party affiliation and became an independent. I actually feel a little cleaner for having done so. I don't really care that the Republicans now control the two houses of Congress, other than as an intellectual exercise, because I am not a Republican. I don't care that the Democrats got kicked in the gut last night because I am not a Democrat. I did not vote for the guy in the White House, not because I'm a racist (seriously???) but because he was and still is a lightweight. During the entire Republican administration of Bush the Younger, I would leave the room when he appeared to speak on the TV, because I could not tolerate his obvious ineptitude and blatant mischaracterization of the war on terror. I really liked former Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. My favorite President of all time happens to be a Democrat, and he is my favorite not because he is a Democrat but because he is Bill Clinton.
Yesterday's election results, and the campaign season that preceded it, did nothing to change my mind about politics. For instance, no matter who you may have voted for in the Florida Governor's race, you got screwed. Two bad choices are no choice at all. It was either Lord Voldemort or the Second Runner- up in the George Hamilton Tanning Invitational. The campaign was so dirty I wanted to run and take a shower each time the ads showed up on TV. My Pop was right. Politics is a sad commentary on the current state of human nature, possibly the saddest and definitely the dirtiest.
Let's talk about food.
The idea for this pasta salad goes back a few years, and arose from one of my weekend trips to BJs. There was an office potluck coming up, and I was always given free reign as to what I would be bringing. The refrigerated cases full of little mozzarella balls inspired me to snag them plus some marinated artichoke hearts and Mother Nature's gift to salad-lovers, sweet little grape tomatoes. The next day, I brought the unopened jars and the box of tomatoes to the office with a big Tupperware bowl, and literally threw together an antipasto salad in just under 3 minutes. I think I was amazed that my coworkers were amazed, because I felt I had cheated them by not cooking from scratch, while they were singing my culinary praises. I love those guys.
This is a more carefully planned version, transformed into a pasta salad full of umami (also described as the fifth taste), so easy to prepare you will pinch yourself. Take your time in between the few steps - sit down, put your feet up, watch the Magic lose yet again - and then serve it to all the happy campers in your life.
A Pasta Salad with Balls
1 pound container marinated ciliegine (small mozzarella balls)
2 cups grape tomatoes, uncut
1 cup marinated mushrooms
1-12 oz. jar quartered and marinated artichoke hearts
1 cup mild pepper rings
1/2 cup manzanilla green olives stuffed with pimento
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
1-4 oz. jar sliced pimentos
1/4 cup sun-dried julienne cut tomatoes in olive oil with herbs
1 T. dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1-3.75 oz. Sargento Parmentino cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1-5 oz. package Hormel pepperoni minis
1 medium green bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch squares
1 bunch of green onions, white part only, sliced thin
2/3 of a 1 pound box of Barilla's TriColor Rotini, cooked according to package direction, rinsed with cold water and well-drained
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Remove each of the first 9 ingredients from their respective jars with a slotted spoon or a fork. You want each element to retain a coating of the marinade and spices they were packed in. Reserve all of the marinade from the mozzarella. Place all of these 9 ingredients in a very large bowl. Add the oregano, Italian seasoning and pepper, and carefully mix everything together so that the spices are well-distributed. Add the parmentino cubes and the pepperoni minis, then moisten with about half of the reserved marinates. Mix again, cover, and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours, longer if you like. Now add the green peppers and green onions, a little more of the marinade, and a bit more of the oregano, Italian seasoning and black pepper. Carefully mix to combine, cover and back in the fridge. Place the well-drained, cooled pasta in a medium bowl, pour over the remaining marinade, season with oregano, Italian seasoning, black pepper and the salt, and stir to combine. Cover and place in the fridge as well. After an hour, add the pasta to the rest of the salad, and serve. Or cover and hold it for the next day. The recipe makes a lot, feeds a crowd, and will make your reputation as a pasta salad maven. There is almost no chopping and no waste, but lots of accolades. Enjoy!