pasta

Grilled Corn and Summer Squash Pasta Salad

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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.

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Here’s what I’m proposing for a pasta salad redux…

  1. 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!

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

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Grilled Corn and Summer Squash Pasta Salad- serves 2

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven’s broiler.

  2. Cook pasta according to package instructions or al dente. Drain, rinse under cold water, strain, and place in a large mixing bowl.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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Spinach Pesto Cauliflower Gnocchi

I have a bookshelf of cookbooks, but I hardly use them!

Let me clarify, I use them for inspiration and to read the stories of the chefs and cooks who create such deliciousness, but it’s rare that I follow most of the recipes to a “T”.

Cooking without a recipe can be so freeing and allows you to customize recipes according to your tastes, budget, and the time to you have prepare. I used to get a lot of gripes from my husband about “not following the recipe” if something came out a little “off” but I looked at this as part of the process of trial and error in the kitchen and finding flavors and ingredients we love. Plus, who’s to say that every detailed, written recipe would be a slam-dunk anyway?

So, I know it’s ironic that I’m talking about cooking without a recipe, but am here posting you a “recipe” for one of my latest creations. Many of you asked questions about the main ingredient, so I figured a post to describe how to cook the infamous cauliflower gnocchi could be helpful. So, whether you follow all the steps to this recipe, or only the gnocchi cooking method, I hope you enjoy!

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Spinach Pesto Cauliflower Gnocchi- serves 2

Ingredients

  • 1 cup potato gnocchi

  • 1 cup Trader Joe’s frozen cauliflower gnocchi

  • 1 large yellow summer squash, sliced into thin half moons

  • 1/2 cup grape tomatoes

  • Half pound ground sweet chicken sausage

  • 3 tbsp spinach pesto from Jar of Lemons

  • Olive oil and salt as needed

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to broil. In a small bowl, mix cherry tomatoes with 1 tsp olive oil, toss, and lay on half sheet baking tray. Slide tray into oven and broil for 5 minutes until tomatoes begin to burst. Remove and let cool.

  2. Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil. Dump in potato gnocchi and cook until gnocchi rise to the top and appear fluffy. Strain gently and set aside.

  3. In a large saute pan, heat a small amount of olive oil and add chicken sausage. Break apart with a wooden spoon and cook until no pink remains. Remove meat with a slotted spoon and reserve in a bowl on the side.

  4. To the same heated saute pan, add sliced yellow squash and a touch of water. Cook squash until tender and to your liking. Turn off heat.

  5. Place cauliflower gnocchi in a glass bowl. Microwave for 3 minutes. Once finished, transfer cauliflower gnocchi to saute pan with reserved squash. Turn on heat and gently move items around to continue to heat cauliflower gnocchi through. It’s ideal if the gnocchi starts to brown a little too.

  6. Then add the cooled potato gnocchi, cooked sausage, and grape tomatoes. Give everything a big stir and mix together. Turn off the heat and add spoonfuls of spinach pesto- you be the judge of how saucy you’d like this dish to be.

Greek Pasta Salad

When I’m needing to carb-load for a running race I always turn to pasta. Now, when I say “carbo-load” whose mind goes straight to Michael Scott shoving fettucini alfredo into his mouth minutes before the Dunder Mifflin 5k? This is a practice I do not advise, but I’m hoping you already figured that one out for yourself.

If you do find yourself training for a long distance running or sporting event, I recommend increasing your carbohydrate intake for the few days prior to race day. Our muscles can hold large stores of glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrates), which will get broken down into glucose (a fast energy source) for your muscles to use for your event, and so we want those reserves nice and full. Carbohydrate sources that I recommend would be pasta, bread, potatoes, and fruits and vegetables.

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So, with the Newport Liberty Half Marathon days away, I pulled together a four veggie pasta salad to enjoy for lunch during the week. I used a mixture of Banza, a chickpea based pasta, and regular white flour pasta for this dish, but feel free to use all white or whole wheat pasta if you prefer. The thing I love about pasta salads is that the add-ins are really up to you! I usually like to pick a “theme” and base my vegetables and other bits by this idea. For this recipe I was feeling Mediterranean and created a Greek-style dish that used up some summer produce from my fridge.

Ready, set, carb!

Greek Pasta Salad- serves 2

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cooked pasta- Banza, white, or whole wheat

  • 1/2 cup cucumber, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes

  • 1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced small

  • 1/4 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

  • 10 pitted kalamata olives, halved

  • 4 cups kale, de-stemmed and sliced into ribbons

  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flake

  • Juice from half of a lemon

  • Feta cheese and hemp seeds, for topping

  • Olive oil

Directions

  1. Cook pasta according to instructions until al dente. Drain and reserve.

  2. Into a large mixing bowl, add chopped cucumber, diced bell pepper, halved tomatoes, and olives. Once pasta is cooled, add to bowl.

  3. In a heated saute pan, add about 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add prepared kale and crushed red pepper to pan and saute until kale becomes soft. Immediately transfer cooked kale to pasta and veggie mixture while warm, mix well.

  4. To pasta mixture, add lemon juice and 2 teaspoons more of olive oil. Mix everything until well combined. To serve, top with 1 tablespoon of hemp seeds and desired amount of crumbled feta cheese.

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