When I say “pasta salad” what dish comes to mind?
If I had to guess, I’d say for a majority of people this dish is typically made of macaroni noodles, maybe with some shredded carrot and chopped celery thrown in, and leaning heavy on the mayo to make it a thick salad that holds together. Is this what popped into your mind too?
Now don’t get me wrong, I love a pasta dish as much as the next one, but I think it’s about time we gave this summer classic an updated look- a recipe that’s just as easy to throw together and enjoy as one or with many people, but one that’s also more nutritionally balanced and servable as a main dish.
Here’s what I’m proposing for a pasta salad redux…
Consider a refreshed pasta base- if you haven’t tried a legume-based pasta, like Banza chickpea pasta, Barilla red lentil penne, or other plant-based noodles from Tolerant Foods or Trader Joe’s, I highly recommend giving them a go. These pastas are higher in protein, and therefore lower in carbohydrates, than traditional wheat varieties. Not sure how it’s going to taste? Try replacing only half of the pasta in the recipe with this new variety!
Amp up the vegetables- while a small pop of color in traditional pasta salad is nothing to turn a nose up at, those shredded carrots are far from the 1 serving of vegetables I would recommend if serving this dish for lunch. Use the pasta salad as a vehicle for easily eating more veggies, rather than feeling like it’s a chore to eat ANOTHER leafy green salad on the side. Since we’re in summer, think about tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, and peppers- they are all great pastabilities!
Make it a complete meal- if you can’t tell, by bulking up the vegetables I’m trying to inch this recipe towards becoming a one-stop, one-pot complete meal. To achieve this, my last recommendation would be to add a source of protein. If preparing pasta salad in bulk you could always make up the base, and then cook and add a new protein each day to your liking. I’m thinking chicken sausages, grilled shrimp, or more chickpeas would be easy ways to round out the dish.
Keep it light, but not on the flavor- you may consider this sacrilegious at first, but I think the days of mayo being the mandatory condiment for pasta salad are over. With not much to offer besides saturated fat and an overpowering flavor, mayonnaise can easily be swapped for olive oil and additional herbs and spices without compromising on flavor. If you’re still craving a little creamy quality, consider a sprinkle of feta or goat cheese for texture and tang.
So, who’s on board to try this dressed up, but totally simple summer pasta salad? Dig in!
Grilled Corn and Summer Squash Pasta Salad- serves 2
4 oz. legume pasta
1 large ear of corn, husk removed, cleaned
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 large yellow summer squash, cut in half lengthwise
1/4 cup cherry tomatoes, halved (optional)
1/2 cup baby arugula
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon red chili flake
Preheat the oven’s broiler.
Cook pasta according to package instructions or al dente. Drain, rinse under cold water, strain, and place in a large mixing bowl.
To “grill” the corn indoors, rest the cleaned ear of corn over a stove burner. Turn on the burner to start a medium flame. The corn will start to crackle and pop a bit, while getting a char. Every so often use tongs to turn the corn so that the entire ear becomes lightly “grilled”. Once finished, let the cooked corn cool on a cutting board. When easy enough to handle, cut the kernels from the cob and add them to the pasta.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium cast iron skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the squash flat-side down. Sear the squash until the flesh starts to brown and crisp, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and transfer the skillet to a rack 4 inches under the broiler. Continue to cook for about 5 to 7 minutes until the squash skin starts to soften and turn slightly browned as well. Remove the cooked squash from the skillet and let cool on a cutting board. When easy enough to handle, cut the squash into 1/2 inch-thick half moon shapes and add to mixing bowl.
Add the tomatoes, arugula, feta, and remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pasta mixture. Toss to coat and mix well, then taste and add salt and red chili flake. Serve with protein of choice for a complete meal.