When we recently visited Zach Pollack's new restaurant Cosa Buona, you could say we walked in with impossibly high standards. I swore the pizza I ate when Zach originally opened Sotto was the best I'd ever tasted, and when Leslie first ate at his Silver Lake restaurant, Alimento, she decided the lamb and mint salad was worth moving cross-country for. Simply put, we're huge fans.
The "Meat Lover's" pizza we ordered was as good, if not better, than I remembered, and the bright and briny sott'oli served as the perfect pairing. The sleeper hit though, was the pasta salad. More pasta than salad, it barely resembles the mayonnaise-y, barbecue standard the name often invokes. Instead, it's primarily founded in broccoli rabe, basil, mint, tomatoes, two types of cheese—oh, and pasta.
When Leslie caught up with Zach a few weeks ago, he explained, "We wanted a vegetable salad with pasta as an ingredient, rather than a pasta salad with vegetables thrown in." As the only pasta dish on the menu—Zach believes a great "pasta program" would be at odds with the laid-back, neighborhood-vibe of the restaurant—it stands on its own. The gemelli cradles an herb dressing, which is best eaten with forkfuls of bitter broccoli rabe, subtle ricotta salata, and candy-sweet tomato confit. It is exactly as Zach describes it: a "produce-driven, bright, crunchy, nostalgic salad." Like many of his recipes (Alimento's cracked farro salad is another favorite of Leslie's), it requires patience and several steps, but is well worth the effort. Just don't take it too seriously—while skillfully prepared, this is a salad that is best served alongside paper napkins, picnic tables, and a cold drink (beer or white wine will do). Here's how to make it:
This pasta salad is a far departure from the mayo saturated prepackaged pasta salads of our grocery store memories, studded with canned black olives and diced bell pepper. It’s amazing how many vegetables and herbs make up each bowl, with the pasta really being a vehicle for the rest of the ingredients to cling to. It comes together fairly easily as well. (Both pastas are available at most grocers, but an Italian specialty store like Mario’s in Glendale or Bay Cities in Santa Monica will have the best selection, if you live in L.A.) - Zach Pollack
Preheat the oven to 300° F. Pick all the basil leaves off the stems and scatter the stems on the bottom of a sheet pan. Toss the tomatoes in a bowl with enough olive oil to coat them, a pinch of salt and pepper and 1 teaspoon or so of dried oregano. Scatter the tomatoes on top of the basil stems and roast uncovered for 45 minutes to 1 hour. The tomatoes are done when they have shrunk and slightly browned, but not burned.
While the tomatoes are roasting, toss the pepitas in a skillet with a teaspoon or two of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Roast in the oven until puffed and lightly browned, about 10 to 12 minutes.
When the tomatoes and pepitas are out of the oven, crank up the temp to 500° F.
In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to boil and add the pasta. While the pasta is cooking, set up a bowl of ice water to shock the pasta when it’s done. Cook the pasta until al dente, 6 to 9 minutes depending on the pasta itself. Immediately plunge the pasta into the bowl of ice water. It will turn fairly crunchy and hard immediately, but this is temporary and the noodle is in fact cooked. Repeat this process with the fregola sarda. Drain the pasta and fregola from the ice water and toss with a bit of oil to keep it from sticking to itself. Leave it in the bowl and set aside.
In a blender, add the dressing ingredients. Turn the blender on the low setting and pour the oil in a continuous stream. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. (At the restaurant, we blanch and shock the basil to keep the dressing bright green, but if you’re using it same day, the blanching process won’t make much of a difference.)
When the oven reaches temp (500° F), dress the baby broccoli and leeks, separately, with olive oil and salt and roast on separate sheet pans, turning occasionally, until charred on the outside but still crunchy in the middle. The leafy broccoli will cook faster than the leeks, so keep an eye on it and remove when ready. When they are cool enough to handle, roughly chop the vegetables and add to the pasta bowl.
Add the chopped herbs, basil, and lemon zest to the bowl and toss to combine. Add 1/2 cup, or so, of the dressing and mix in. Keep adding dressing until the pasta is lightly coated in dressing—you may not need all of it. Add salt and pepper and a good shot of red wine vinegar. The salad should be bright and tangy.
Transfer to a serving bowl and finish with the roasted tomatoes, pepitas, and shaved ricotta salata. Parmesan or aged pecorino would be a perfectly nice substitute. Mangia!