I thought long and hard about what exactly to call this pasta salad.
"Nahreen's pasta salad" is usually what I call it, because my aunt Nahreen makes it. Then I thought about calling it "Chicago Style pasta salad", because a key ingredient in it is giardiniera (packed in oil, not in vinegar), and as far as I know the only place you can find oil-packed giardiniera is in Chicago.
[Begin giardiniera tangent]
It's hard for me to describe the taste of giardiniera, but its a variety of diced vegetables ((peppers, celery, carrots, cauliflower, gherkins) that are brined in oil, vinegar, salt, and spices. Giardiniera is typically used around Chicago as a condiment on Italian Beef sandwiches, but you can also find them served on salads, or even calamari (it was delicious). Most restaurants serve the spicy kind, but you can buy jars in mild, medium, and hot versions. But don't be fooled by any old giardiniera. When I was in California you could only find them packed in vinegar. They weren't bad, but they weren't the same. And as far as I know Chicago is the only place that sells the oil-packed kind, which have a very unique taste to them. Luckily for you if you don't live in Chicago you can order them online. I really like the Marconi brand, but there are a ton of others good ones too.
At home, I love to use giardiniera on my salads. What I especially love about Chicago-style giardiniera is that I can actually make dressing for my salad from the oil they're packed in. (Extra giardiniera-y goodness that way!!) Just throw a few spoonfulls of veggies + their oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, some dijon mustard in a jar, shake them together, and you've got yourself a kick-ass salad dressing. (I'm currently eating that as I type this blog post!)
[End giardiniera tangent]
Ultimately, I decided on naming this dish "Jackie's favorite pasta salad" because, well, it's my favorite! And it's not only the giardiniera that makes it awesome (although it helps). Its loaded with a lot of my favorite ingredients, such as artichoke hearts, olives (black and green!), and baby carrots. Sure, they're semi ghetto fabulous and they're all either canned or jarred veggies, but I love them nonetheless.
Yours in rarely stating with certainty that something is her favorite, and yet doing it here today,
Jackie's Favorite Pasta Salad aka Nahreen's Pasta Salad aka Chicago Style Pasta Salad
Serves a party-sized group of people
Note: Make this salad at least one day in advance as it needs time to absorb all the liquid and for the flavors to meld together. It also keeps really well in the fridge for days, so you don't have to worry about leftovers going to waste. It literally gets better as the days go on!
1 lb pasta, cooked al dente (rinsed and cooled with a tiny bit of olive oil to keep it from sticking together)
1 can baby carrots, chopped
1 can black olives, sliced (~ 1 to 1 1/4 cups)
1 cup sliced green olives
juice from 3 lemons, about 3/4 cup, or more to taste
2 cans of marinated artichoke hearts, liquid and all (I repeat: do not drain the liquid!)
1/2 cup giardiniera, or more to taste
1/2 cup italian dressing
can of chick peas, optional
1/2 tsp unsweetened kool-aid, optional (this just ups the lemon flavor a bit but is not necessary; make sure to use the unsweetened kind though! you want the citrusy lemon flavor, not sugar)
1. Place all ingredients into a large bowl. Mix to combine. Place in fridge.
2. Wait overnight.
3. Remove from fridge. Stir the pasta well (as the liquids tend to settle) and give it a taste. Add more fresh lemon juice if it's lost some of its citrusy-ness while sitting overnight.
4. Eat, enjoy, and thank me later.
FYI: When you first combine all the ingredients the pasta salad will look very watery with all the liquid from the lemon, artichoke hearts, and salad dressing. Do not fret. THAT IS NORMAL. After an overnight trip in the fridge the pasta will have absorbed a lot of that liquid. Just make sure in the morning to toss the pasta really well to distribute the liquid. And make sure to do this everytime before you plan on serving someone from the bowl. Otherwise all the good flavor tends to settle down on the bottom of the pasta bowl and you'll be serving someone semi dry and flavorless pasta. And nobody wants that.