Garden Vegetable Pasta Salad
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 I originally made this pasta salad with orzo pasta, but I prefer a slightly more substantial pasta shape for my salad.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!
Garden Vegetable Pasta Salad
- 3 Tbs white wine vinegar
- 1 tea Dijon mustard
- 1 garlic clove peeled, germ removed and smashed
- 1/4 tea Kosher Salt
- 1/2 tea fresh ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1/2 lb/ 8oz/ 228g dried pasta I like the small shape dried pasta like fusillini,-mini fusilli
- 1 English cucumber about 13 oz /363g in size
- 1 small zucchini about 1/2 lb/215g
- 1 yellow or red bell pepper
- 1 pint basket of cherry or grape tomatoes
- 4 oz/ 116g cured black olives such as Kalamata olives pitted
- 4 oz/ 116 g crumbled feta cheese or goat cheese, fresh mozzarella
- 6 parsley sprigs
- 10 medium to large basil leaves
- 2 sprigs of lemon thyme optional
- Zest from 1 lemon
Make the salad dressing at least a couple of hours ahead and rest it on the counter until ready to use.
In a small glass jar with a tight lid, or a small bowl, add the vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper and garlic clove. Whisk, or shake if using a jar with a lid, together until combined.
Pour the olive oil in a slow and steady stream into the bowl or jar and whisk, (or shake) the ingredients until emulsified.
Set the salad dressing aside at room temperature for a couple of hours.
Cook the pasta following the directions on the pack of the box of your purchased pasta. Drain the cooked pasta in a colander and cool it off by spraying cold water on the pasta. Shake the colander to remove excess water. Use a paper towel or a clean kitchen towel to soak up any water from the pasta. You want to dry the pasta as best you can, so the olive oil will adhere to the pasta.
Once dried add the cooked pasta to a mixing bowl and add 1/2 Tb of extra virgin olive oil to the cooked pasta. Gently mix the pasta with your hands for the olive oil to lightly cover the pasta. (I do this to prevent the pasta from sticking together while I am preparing the vegetables. It only needs a very light coating of olive oil.)
Clean and prepare all the garden vegetables. Cut the cucumber, zucchini, sweet bell pepper into small bite size pieces less than 1/2 inch in size. Add the prepared vegetables to the bowl with the pasta.
Cut each olive in half to check for pits, if there are pits remove them to the trash. Cut each olive half in half or thirds and add to the pasta bowl.
Cut the cherry or grape tomatoes in half and if prefer, cut each half in half. Add tomatoes to the bowl with other vegetables and pasta.
Using clean hands or a mixing spoon gently mix the pasta and vegetables until they are all evenly combined.
Stack the basil leaves on top of each other and roll the pile, lengthwise. Thinly slice the rolled basil leaves across the roll, chiffonade cut. Cut the pile of chiffonade basil in half to make shorter pieces.
Chop the parsley, then add the herbs to the pasta and vegetables.
Add the feta cheese, lemon zest, and half of the salad dressing, keep the garlic clove in the jar as you pour the salad dressing, or you can dispose of the garlic.
Stir the vegetables pasta salad until everything is evenly combined. Taste the pasta salad and add more salad dressing and salt and pepper if needed.
Ahead of time preparation.
I make the salad dressing ahead of time to allow time for the garlic to infuse in the vinaigrette. I do not want the strong raw garlic flavor in the vinaigrette, so I remove the clove.
You can cook the pasta ahead of time and leave it covered on the counter until you are ready to assemble the pasta with the vegetables. You can also prepare all the vegetables and mix it with the pasta. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you need it. It is best to do this the same day of eating the pasta salad, as the vegetables will start breaking down once they have been cut. Add the fresh herbs, lemon zest, cheese, and salad dressing just before you plan to serve the pasta salad.
If you are making this with gluten-free pasta, I would not make the salad too far in advance as the gluten-free pasta breaks down a lot quicker than pasta made with wheat. Add the salad dressing just before serving so the pasta salad will not get mushy. You can also experiment using less acid in the dressing to keep it fresh for a longer period of time.
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