I can hear the motors gearing up as people get ready to travel for a long weekend summer vacation. The car is packed with bikes, kayaks, towels, swim-gear, boogie boards, camping equipment, and overflowing with 12 changes of clothes per person for three days, because you never know what the weather will bring. Labor Day is here and people are anticipating a fun weekend full of playtime with family and friends for a last summer hurrah.
With all of this great activity in the summer’s sun, you are going to want to make food that will not take up a lot of your play time, needs to be nourishing, and taste as bright and delightful as your weekend vacation. My solution is Garden Vegetable Pasta Salad, loaded with fresh vegetables, cured olives, creamy cheese and fresh herbs. It is a light and refreshing pasta salad that will satiate your hunger and cravings and use up a lot of vegetables that you purchased at the farmer’s market, or picked from your own garden. The bonus is, this pasta salad recipe won’t take up a lot of your play time to prepare.
This is a throwback recipe that I have made for over thirty years. I originally made this pasta salad with orzo pasta, but I prefer a slightly more substantial pasta shape for my salad. Look for the miniature versions of traditional pasta shapes like mini fusilli, mini penne, or mini farfalle, (bowties). Most pasta shapes will work, but remember you want this to look attractive and be easy to eat if you are not sitting at a table. Nothing too big that will require the use of both hands to manage into bite size pieces. Or, so small you can’t easily spear or scoop up the pasta and vegetables with a fork. It is also incredibly easy to make this a gluten-free pasta salad by substituting the pasta with gluten-free pasta like quinoa pasta.
Garden vegetable pasta salad is easily adaptable if you need to double the recipe, or cut it down for a small dinner party or lunch. You can also decide how much of any of the vegetables you want to add, or change any ingredients to fit any diet or situation. It is a perfect salad to bring on a picnic, BBQ, luncheon, dinner, beach house, country retreat, or staycation. You can make this garden pasta salad ahead of time and add the salad dressing just before serving. Serve the pasta salad cold or at room temperature. I believe the salad tastes its very best at room temperature.
8 different ways to adapt Garden Vegetable Pasta Salad to suit any diet or mood
- For Gluten Free, just use gluten-free dried pasta. My favorite is quinoa pasta. (See note in recipe for best ahead of time preparation using gluten-free pasta.)
- A Vegetarian/Vegan entrée, add one 15 oz can of chickpeas, or small white Navy beans, or Great Northern beans, or Cannellini beans to the salad. If using canned beans rinse the beans before using. If using home cooked beans add about two cups cooked beans. Omit the cheese for a vegan entrée.
- Don’t like feta cheese, switch the cheese to fresh mozzarella and cut into small bite size pieces, or crumble goat cheese and carefully mix together with the vegetables and pasta. Feeling brave, try adding your favorite, rindless, soft, Mediterranean cheese.
- For a main pasta salad entrée, add one to two cans of tuna (or fresh cooked tuna), or 1 pound of cooked salmon, or shrimp. Or you can add grilled or rotisserie chicken, cut into slivers or pulled off the bone, to the salad.
- If you must have meat, tear up some prosciutto and fry the pieces until crispy. Scatter the prosciutto over the pasta salad and mix until evenly blended. Or if you are feeling really zippy, add good quality dried salami, cut into small bite size pieces.
- Switch up the fresh herbs. Fresh mint would be a great addition, or mint and fresh tarragon or cracked fennel seed.
- For a creamier salad dressing without the cream, make The Silver Palate’s Garlic Dressing. This is a delicious, creamy, and garlicky salad dressing that is also good with a hearty green salad. Add one egg yolk, 1/2 cup red wine vinegar, 1 Tbsp sugar, 3 cloves of minced fresh garlic, with about a small pinch of Kosher salt and ground pepper to the bowl of a food processor, and process until blended. With the motor running, slowly drizzle 1 cup of good quality olive oil until emulsified. There will be about 1 1/2 cups of dressing. Add about a third of the dressing to the Pasta Salad and taste. Add more if needed. Go light with the salad dressing so you keep the fresh taste of the vegetables.
- More time on your hands, you can roast the vegetables and make a salad with pasta the roasted vegetables. Omit the cucumbers and add the olives to the pasta salad along with the fresh herbs and dressing. Great roasting vegetables are: sweet red, yellow or orange bell peppers, yellow summer squash, zucchini, fennel, onions, garlic, and tomatoes. To name just a few. A simple vinaigrette is the perfect salad dressing.
The possibilities are endless. Enjoy your weekend!
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