I have a fondness for formulas – mathematic formulas, scientific formulas, photographic formulas, and, of course, kitchen formulas. I feel that if I follow a formula, nothing too bad can happen. If I you think about it, living “the good life” is one huge formula waiting for us to figure out. The key is knowing that formulas build on one another. Like a pyramid, the most highly specialized ones – recipes, techniques, ratios, etc. – form the foundation. I think many people equate a formula to something that is dull and predictable. “That novel was so formulaic, it bored me to tears,” someone might say. But on the contrary, I see formulas as a road maps of sorts. They are the best and fastest way to live the life to which we aspire with the least amount of interruptions or obstacles . No one would ever consider planning for retirement or purchasing a home without a reliable formula to consult first. There is a reason we have the phrase “a recipe for success.” . . . And while I don’t often cook with recipes, formulas are something from which I never stray.
If I were to write a cookbook, instead of recipes it would be filled with all my favourite kitchen formulas and pasta salad, for instance, might be filed under, formula for when the summer nights are too hot to cook. Or it could be found when searching for, recipes for summer entertaining. Or under, for when the kids have friends over. Or . . . for a quick, make-ahead meal. Or . . . for when I’ve neglected to plan dinner altogether. Or for when … I just want something cool and light for lunch, al fresco. Really pasta salad checks all the boxes and more. For a meal that’s a bit heartier, I switch up regular pasta (it’s just a formula, after all) for a stuffed pasta like tortellini or ravioli to make one of the most satisfying summer salads.
I love a recipe/formula that’s so simple, yet so adaptable and reliable, not to mention so open to improvosation. I know if I make this salad, everyone will be happy. It’s a true recipe for success. I make it with whatever happens to be in the pantry or in season. I always have jars of olives in the pantry. My kids especially love the Castelvetrano olives, those pale green orbs that are mild, smooth and even more buttery than ripe black olives. Be selective when buying these, though. They should be a lovely light chartreuse green with yellow undertones, like a peridot. If the olives are leaning toward the neon side of the colour spectrum, they’ve been dyed artificially. These olives look more like a jars of curiosities belonging in Dr. Frankenstien’s lab than something that should be found on the shelves of my local grocery store. For this salad, however, I decided on Kalamata olives to compliment the flavours of the Greek oregano and feta. Like olives, you can use almost any cheese. I’ve made this with buttery mozzarella balls or salty parmesan cubes, or you can leave the cheese out altogether, as the tortellini is filled with creamy ricotta already. It’s really up to you.
Last summer I shared this recipe on Instagram and have made it so many times since that I thought it deserved a permanent spot here on the blog. It’s always a little tricky deciding which recipes belong here and which are simple enough to share on Instagram. As with all else, I have a formula: More complex recipes, with long ingredient lists and detailed instructions belong here on the blog. Simpler recipes and basic formulas, with instructions that fit within the space of a caption, go on Instagram. This recipe is certainly simple, but the value in it’s simplicity warrants a place of permanence.
Cold tortellini salad, even colder rosé, dinner on the patio with my family. These are the ingredients for a perfect late summer evening. This is my recipe for success.
16 oz. frozen cheese tortellini
10 oz (283g) grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup olives, halved or sliced
1 cucumber, peeled and diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (or mozzarella, parmesan)
A handful of parsley, chopped
for the dressing:
3 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
2 TBSP red wine vinegar
1 tsp dry Greek oregano
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp sugar
1 clove garlic, pressed
Salt & pepper, to taste
Cook the tortellini according to package directions, adding a tablespoon of olive oil to the cooking water to prevent the pasta from sticking together. Drain and rinse under cool running water. Drain well again and place in a serving bowl. Add the tomatoes, olives, cucumber, onion, feta and parsley and toss gently to combine.
Whisk together all the dressing ingredients except the oil until the sugar is dissolved. Slowly pour in the oil while whisking until the dressing is emulsified. Pour over the salad and toss again.
Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.