Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Tag Archives: Pasta salad

Eating a healthy lunch can help control blood glucose, hunger and weight. Lunch is a chance to keep you full until dinner and fit in some important food groups. Get more mileage out of your lunch by including fiber from whole grains and protein from low-fat dairy products and other lean protein sources. Taking a healthy lunch to work is one of the simplest ways to trim your budget. Most people think nothing of spending $10 or so for a restaurant lunch, but over the course of a month — or a year — the expense can really add up.
Beyond the cost savings, most meals packed at home are healthier than foods from restaurants or fast food counters, if you leave out the processed foods such as cookies, chips and snacks, which have higher sodium, added sugar and saturated fat.
When we eat out, we’re often faced with huge portions and fattening extras — like the french fries that routinely come with sandwiches. When you pack lunch at home, you can control your portions and choose healthier ingredients.

Falafel Sandwich with Tomato Gazpacho

Patties
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, low-sodium, drained and rinsed or 2 cups homemade dried beans
1/4 cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 cup parsley leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil plus extra
Olive oil for the pan
Olive oil cooking spray

Tahini Sauce
1/2 cup pure tahini paste (sesame paste)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons warm water, plus more if necessary
1 garlic clove, grated
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Large pinch cumin
Large pinch cayenne pepper

Sandwich
1 cup chopped romaine lettuce
4 whole-wheat pita pocket breads, sliced open

Directions

Combine all falafel patty ingredients, except the parsley, in the bowl of a food processor. Process for 10 seconds.

Stop motor and scrape down sides of bowl, then pulse for another 10 seconds, until all ingredients are well incorporated but the mixture is slightly coarse. Stir in the chopped parsley

Refrigerate the mixture in a covered bowl for a few hours before making the patties.

For the tahini sauce:

Whisk all of the tahini sauce ingredients together until smooth in a serving bowl. Set aside at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Pour a little olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet and spread it to cover the pan. Place the pan in the oven while the oven is preheating.

Form mixture into 8 or 9 balls and flatten into patties.

Place the patties on the hot pan and spray the tops with a little olive oil cooking spray.

Bake the patties for 10 minutes, turn the patties over and bake an additional 10 minutes, or until they are crisp and browned.

Wrap the pita breads in foil and heat them in the oven for 5 minutes while the patties are baking.

Fill each pita with some of the lettuce, falafel patties and tahini sauce.

Tomato Gazpacho

2 servings

Ingredients

3 large ripe plum tomatoes, seeds removed
2 scallions, trimmed
1 celery stalk, trimmed
Half a green bell pepper, seeds removed
1 large garlic clove, peeled
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon agave syrup
Celery and cucumber sticks for garnish

Directions

Chop all the vegetables and place in a processor or blender and process until smooth.

Pour into a covered container and chill. Serve in 8 oz glasses and garnish with stalks of celery and cucumber.

Asparagus Quiche with Heirloom Tomato Salad

8 servings

Ingredients

1 refrigerated pie crust for a 9 inch pie, at room temperature
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed
1 bunch scallions (green onions). trimmed
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup chopped chives
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 eggs
1/2 cup half & half (milk/cream)
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar

Directions

Heat the oven to 450°F.

Line a baking pan with heavy-duty foil. Spread the asparagus and scallions on the baking sheet and toss with the olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

Roast until the vegetables until tender, about 12 minutes. Cool and cut into one-inch pieces.

Lower the oven temperature to 350°F.

Place the pie crust in a 9-inch pie pan. Place the pie pan on a clean baking sheet.

Arrange the roasted asparagus and scallions over the bottom of the crust.

In a mixing bowl, combine the chives, Dijon mustard, eggs, half & half, a large pinch salt and a large pinch black pepper.

Whisk together until well combined.

Pour over the vegetables and top with the cheese.

Bake 45 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Heirloom Tomato Salad 

Ingredients

1 pint miniature heirloom tomatoes, halved
1 garlic clove, grated
½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
2-3 tablespoons Italian Vinaigrette

Directions

Combine the tomatoes, garlic, vinaigrette, Italian seasoning and salt and pepper to taste. Mix and let rest for about 15 minutes.

Serve over butter lettuce, if desired.

Mediterranean Style Pasta Salad

Ingredients

1/3 cup olive oil
3 garlic cloves, grated
1 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and very thinly sliced
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and finely diced
12 Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
6 scallions, very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
1 cup finely diced feta cheese
½ lb small cooked shrimp, optional
Salt and pepper
1 lb short pasta

Directions

Combine all the ingredients except the shrimp, pasta and the salt in a large bowl. Toss and let sit for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water and add the pasta and cook until al dente.

Carefully scoop the pasta out of the pot with a large spider or slotted spoon and add to the bowl with the vegetables.

Add the shrimp, if using, salt and pepper to taste and serve warm or at room temperature.

If made ahead, refrigerate covered overnight. Bring to room temperature before serving.

 


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Lots of mayo can easily turn a pasta salad into a 400 calorie or 500 calorie side dish. Here are some tips you can follow to make a healthy pasta salad.

A whole-wheat pasta salad is a great way to add whole grains and there are many brands on the market to choose from that actually taste good. Traditional pasta salads call for about two cups of pasta per person, without any dressing or add-ins. On its own, that’s 400 calories. And portions still matter, even when you’re using whole-grain pasta. Aim for about one-cup servings of cooked pasta.

Since pasta portions can quickly up the calories, it’s important add bulk to your dish by adding vegetables. Olives, bell peppers, carrots, broccoli, scallions, cauliflower, grape tomatoes and cucumbers are great options, but there’s no limit to the amount of vegetables you can add.

Get flavor without adding calories by mixing in seasonal fresh herbs. Basil, mint and parsley all work well in a pasta salad. Herbs also contain small amounts of vitamins and minerals, which helps make your pasta salad even healthier.

Cheese, corn and beans are several high-calorie ingredients typically found in pasta salads. If you do add cheese, sprinkle about one tablespoon per serving to add flavor. For corn or beans, two tablespoons per serving should be enough.

Many dressings drown a pasta salad in calories. You want just enough dressing to cover the ingredients, without totally saturating them. This also allows the flavors of the vegetables and fresh herbs to come though. There are also many ways to make a healthier dressing: Combine light mayonnaise with nonfat Greek yogurt to cut overall calories or use a vinaigrette dressing instead of mayonnaise. Whichever you choose, a good rule of thumb is to use two tablespoons of dressing per serving.

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Farfalle Salad with Fennel, Prosciutto and Parmesan

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 8 oz farfalle pasta (bow ties)
  • 1 large fennel bulb (about 1 pound), sliced as thin as possible
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
  • 1/4 pound thin-sliced prosciutto, cut into strips
  • 1/4-pound chunk Parmesan cheese, shaved

Directions

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta until al dente, about 14 minutes. Drain.

In a large bowl, toss together the pasta, fennel, oil, lemon juice, salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper. Add the prosciutto and toss again.

To serve:

Mound the salad on plates. Top with strips of Parmesan shaved from the chunk of cheese with a vegetable peeler.

Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper over the cheese.

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Shrimp, Lemon and Gemelli Pasta Salad

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 lb gemelli or cavatappi pasta
  • 1 lb large shrimp
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Champagne or white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes
  • 1/2 peeled cucumber, sliced

Directions

Heat a large covered saucepan of salted water to boiling. Cook pasta 2 minutes less than the label directs, stirring occasionally. Add shrimp 2 minutes before the pasta is cooked. Drain well.

Grate 1 teaspoon peel from the lemon and squeeze 2 tablespoons juice into large bowl. Add oil, vinegar, dill, capers, mustard, garlic and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper; whisk to combine.

Stir in tomatoes and cucumber.

Add pasta and shrimp to the large bowl; toss until well-coated. Serve warm or refrigerate in an airtight container up to 1 day ahead.

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Spaghetti with Pesto and Tomato-Mozzarella Salad

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 lb thin spaghetti
  • 1 bunch fresh basil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
  • 1/2 teaspoon. salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/2 pints red and/or yellow cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into cubes

Directions

Heat a large saucepan of salted water to boiling. Add spaghetti and cook as label directs for al dente.

Reserve 12 small basil leaves for garnish.

From the remaining basil, remove enough leaves to equal 2 cups firmly packed.

In a food processor, process basil leaves, garlic, 1/4 cup oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt until pureed, stopping processor and scrape bowl occasionally.

Add Parmesan; pulse to combine. Set pesto aside.

In a large bowl, mix tomatoes, vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon pepper the with remaining 1 tablespoon oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Gently stir in mozzarella.

Drain spaghetti, reserving 1/2 cup spaghetti of the cooking water. Return spaghetti and reserved cooking water to the saucepan; add pesto and toss well.

Spoon spaghetti mixture into the bowl with the tomato-mozzarella salad. Garnish with reserved basil leaves. Serve at room temperature.

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Chicken and Penne Salad

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups penne (tube-shaped) pasta
  • 2 cups (1-inch) cut green beans (about 1/2 pound)
  • 2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast
  • 1/2 cup vertically sliced red onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 (7-ounce) jar roasted red bell pepper, drained and cut into thin strips
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon cold water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

Cook pasta in boiling water 7 minutes. Add green beans; cook 4 minutes. Drain well.

Combine pasta, green beans, chicken, onion, basil, parsley and roasted peppers in a large bowl, tossing gently to combine.

Combine oil and remaining ingredients in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Drizzle over pasta mixture; toss gently to coat. Chill.

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Roasted Vegetable Pasta Salad

8-10 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups coarsely chopped zucchini (1 medium)
  • 1 ½ cups coarsely chopped yellow summer squash(1 medium)
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped red onion (1 large)
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped fennel bulb
  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped green sweet pepper (1 medium)
  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped red sweet pepper (1 medium)
  • 1 small eggplant (about 10 ounces), coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 12 ounces dried whole wheat penne pasta

Walnut Pesto

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup torn fresh basil
  • 1/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • Snipped fresh basil

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a roasting pan combine zucchini, summer squash, onion, fennel, sweet peppers and eggplant. Drizzle with the 3 tablespoons oil; toss to coat. Roast for 45 to 50 minutes or until the vegetables are tender, stirring twice. Transfer to a very large bowl; cool.

Cook pasta according to package directions for al dente. Drain and cool slightly.

Add the pasta to the roasted vegetables. Mix gently.

For the walnut pesto:

In a blender combine garlic, the 1 cup torn basil, the cheese and walnuts; cover and pulse with several on/off turns until chopped. With blender running, gradually add the 1/2 cup oil, the lemon juice and the 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Add the pesto to the pasta-vegetable mixture, stirring gently to coat. Stir in cherry tomatoes. Season to taste with additional salt and black pepper.

Serve at room temperature sprinkled with additional basil.


Parents start the year with the best intentions for lunchtime organization. This is going to be the year that we plan ahead, that lunches are healthy, that our mornings will be stress-free when it comes to getting out the door with well-rounded nutrition in hand. Then, about the third week in September, you find yourself stuck on a Thursday morning when your family has already eaten all of the week’s lunch supplies. You stuff Oreo cookies and Nacho chips in a plastic bag, make a jelly sandwich on the ends of the bread and throw a Hi-C juice box in the lunch box.

This is the year to turn it around. Get organized and skip the Lunchables and the pre-packaged chips and sugar-stuffed granola bars. Being organized can also mean saving money. By planning ahead, you can avoid resorting to expensive pre-packaged portions and instead fill reusable containers at the beginning of the week and have them at hand.

Organizing Tips

I recommend just planning one week at a time to keep things simple and lessen the chance of food spoiling or not getting eaten. Decide on what meals you want to have for the week, create a grocery list and go shopping.

Make lunches the night before. Please don’t save this task for the morning. You have way too much too much to do: dragging those sleepy-eyed kiddos out of bed, feeding them breakfast, brushing their teeth, gathering their backpacks and making sure you get them off to school on time!

Pick meals and snacks that are easy to prepare. Save the complicated meals for dinner time or for the weekends. The important thing is to make the lunches healthy.

Have designated containers that fit in the lunchbox, so you don’t have to dig around the Tupperware drawer at 6 AM trying to find a matching lid. After washing them, place them back in the lunchbox. Use BPA-free containers, to foster a more sustainable lifestyle for the whole family such as:

Organize your lunches

• Buy large packages of baked chips, baby carrots, low sugar canned fruit, cookies, etc., and create individual portions at home. Take time on Sunday to pack for the entire week.

• Use a shallow plastic storage container in the refrigerator to keep all your lunch supplies in one place — juice boxes, yogurt, cheese, fruit, cut vegetables, etc. These foods are off limits except for packing lunch.

• Try to cut down on sugar. Prepackaged foods like granola bars and some yogurts and drinks may seem like healthy choices, but you might as well be giving them cookies and ice cream. A healthy lunch sets the stage for a productive and successful afternoon. Plain yogurt has no added sugar, yet a 6-ounce container has about 12 grams of naturally-occurring sugar in the form of lactose. Fruit-flavored yogurt varies in the amount of sugar added, so it’s important that you read the Nutrition Facts panel. On average, the added fruit and sweeteners contribute about 14 grams of sugar, making the total sugars about 26 grams in a 6-ounce container.

• Let kids help! They are more likely to eat what they help prepare.

• Don’t worry about what anyone thinks. If your child loves the same lunch every day, give them the same lunch.

School Lunch Ideas                                                                                                                                                                                                   

As a former educator, I am well aware that nut allergies are a problem at most schools and nut products should not be sent to school. The majority of schools do not allow peanut butter, almond butter, nutella or any nut products or seeds. Here are some suggestions for school lunches that don’t include nuts or nut products:

  • Veggies – baby carrots, grape tomatoes and/or cucumber slices
  • Protein, such as, slices of lean ham, turkey or leftover meatloaf
  • Leftovers that taste good the next day, such as, pasta (especially if it has been prepared with pesto) or oven fried chicken from last night’s dinner
  • Fruit – apple slices + any seasonal or on-sale fruit, usually, grapes, kiwi, oranges, melon. Put some chopped fruit in a container with a lid and place it in the freezer the night before. It will be partially defrosted by lunchtime and will seem like a slushy.
  • Fruit combinations – mango and strawberries or watermelon with grapes
  • Bread -choose whole grain breads or crackers without nuts or seeds
  • Multigrain or whole-corn tortillas (for example, La Tortilla Factory) spread with reduced fat, flavored cream cheese and chopped peppers, or sliced turkey or chicken with thin slices of cantaloupe
  • Dessert – Homemade popcorn, pretzels, unsweetened applesauce or low fat chocolate pudding

Resource for more school lunch ideas: http://www.bentolunch.net/ which offers a collection of ideas from across the web, from simple embellishments on old standards — such as impressing pictures on sandwiches with cookie cutters — to elaborate lunch sculptures worthy of Food Network competitions.

Some Lunch Box Recipes

Alphabet Pasta Salad                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup uncooked whole wheat alphabet pasta, stars, orzo or any shape your child likes
  • 1/2 cup vegetables (whatever your child likes, such as peas, broccoli, corn or green beans
  • 1/2 cup reduced fat shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup diced fresh tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon powdered garlic

Directions:

Cook pasta in salted water according to package instructions (usually about 9- 10 minutes) and add vegetables during the last 5 minutes. Drain.

In a mixing bowl combine lemon juice, oil and seasonings with a whisk. Fold in pasta and vegetables carefully so as not to break up the letters.

Mix in cheese and tomatoes. Chill. Pour into individual lunch box containers.

Can be made up to two days ahead. Makes 2 cups.

Creamy Alouette Spread and Deli Turkey Wrap

Ingredients:

  • 2 whole wheat sandwich wraps or tortillas
  • 2 ounces light Alouette cheese spread
  • 2 ounces deli turkey slices
  • Cucumber, carrot and red bell pepper sticks

Directions:

Spread wraps with Alouette cheese. Place turkey on top of cheese. Place vegetable sticks on top of turkey. Roll up.

Pair mini muffins with yogurt or low fat cottage cheese, veggie sticks and cut up fruit. Store in the freezer and take one out for the lunch box when you pack the lunch.

Pumpkin Applesauce Mini Muffins

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (you can use all-purpose flour also)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degree. Spray a 24 cup mini-muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray.

In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk together to combine. Set aside.

In a smaller bowl, combine applesauce, canola oil, vanilla, and canned pumpkin. Stir until all ingredients are combined.

Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Stir until all ingredients are mixed through.

Using a small spoon or a melon ball scooper, scoop the muffin batter into the muffin tin. Only fill each cup 3/4 full.

Bake for 15-20 minutes rotating pan once halfway through cooking.

Banana Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup mashed banana (2 small, ripe bananas)
  • 3/4 cup plain low fat yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon. baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup sugar or 1/4 cup light sugar alternative
  • 1/4 cup egg substitute
  • 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a 24-cup miniature muffin tin with vegetable cooking spray.

Mix banana, yogurt, and vanilla in a small bowl.

Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

Beat oil and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add egg substitute and beat until smooth.

Reduce speed to low and beat in one third of the dry ingredients, then half the yogurt mixture. Add another one third of the dry ingredients, then remaining yogurt, and remaining dry ingredients, beating until batter is just smooth. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until batter light and fluffy, about 30 seconds. Stir in chips.

Completely fill each muffin cup with batter. Bake on oven rack adjusted to middle of oven until golden brown, 12-14 minutes.

Set pan on a wire rack to cool slightly. Remove muffins to a cooling rack.

Easy Low Fat Chocolate Cookies

Make a batch of these cookies and freeze them so they will be handy and fresh for lunch boxes. They will defrost long before lunchtime in the lunch box.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce           
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup egg substitute
  • 3/4 cup sugar or 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons light sugar alternative
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2-2/3 cups all-purpose flour or Eagle Ultra Grain flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

Directions:

In a large bowl of an electric mixer, combine the applesauce, oil and egg substitute. Beat in sugars and vanilla.

Combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl. Gradually add to applesauce mixture and mix well.

Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or until slightly firm.

Drop dough by rounded teaspoons 2 in. apart onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper or coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle each cookie with a few chocolate chips.

Bake at 350° F for 8-10 minutes or until set. Remove to wire racks.

Yield: about 3-1/2 dozen.


Pasta salads are ideal for summer days when it’s too hot to eat fresh-from-the-oven dishes. Lighten up traditional pasta salad by substituting the fattiest ingredients often found in the dish with leaner options. Omitting the mayonnaise or substituting a low-fat version, using  low-fat cheese and adding fresh vegetables, such as spinach, are among the ways that a traditionally calorie-heavy side dish can be transformed into a healthy main course that’s perfect for summer entertaining.

Whatever type of pasta you have in your cupboard, from spaghetti to rigatoni, you can create a great salad in the time it takes the pasta to cook and cool. The first thing to do before you start cooking any noodles is to look through your kitchen and decide which ingredients will be added to the salad.

Here are a few ideas:

1-Vegetables:

You can put just about any vegetable in a pasta salad. Onions, celery, carrots, bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, raw spinach, etc. are good examples. If you prefer to have your vegetables cooked rather than raw you can add them to the pot with your pasta. I would wait until the pasta is partially cooked about 3 minutes before adding them to keep the vegetables from overcooking. Tomatoes, roasted red peppers and cucumber should be raw and added after the pasta is cooked and cooled slightly.

2-Meat and Seafood:

Deli-style meat or leftover cooked meat makes a great addition to a pasta salad. Beef, chicken, ham and turkey are good examples. It doesn’t matter if it’s cubed or thinly sliced, it will blend into the salad nicely.

Seafood is another popular ingredient, freshly cooked or canned. The easiest is to add a can of salmon or tuna to your salad. Freshly cooked seafood is becoming quite popular. Some examples are scallops, shrimp, prawns, crab, squid, mussels, oysters, clams, and any finfish. Smoked salmon is full of flavour and my favorite seafood to add to a salad.

Although meat and/or seafood can enhance your pasta salad, they are not required, so if you would prefer to omit them, you can still make a perfectly fine salad without them.

3-Cheese:

Many pasta salads have parmesan cheese added to them but any cheese will add flavor. You can use cheese in any form such as grated, sliced or cubed.

4-Olives:

Any kind of olive enhances a salad.

5-Spices:

Add spices sparingly, use any of your favorites. Some popular ones are: oregano, basil, thyme or chives.

6-Dressing:

For dressing you can go with creamy or an oil and vinegar mix. Any bottled dressing will work or you can make your own. Homemade dressings taste better. For creamy dressing use about a cup of  low-fat mayonnaise or yogurt with 1/4 cup of either vinegar, wine, lemon or lime juice. Add a little spice, salt and pepper to taste and you have a creamy dressing. For an oil/vinegar dressing just substitute the mayonnaise or yogurt with about 1/4 cup salad oil.

Now that you have decided on your ingredients it’s time to boil your pasta. Follow the directions on the package and cook until al dente. In other words, cook pasta until tender but firm (usually about 8-10 minutes).

Drain pasta in a colander and pour into a large serving bowl.  Add dressing sparingly until salad is completely coated. Pasta will absorb the dressing better while it is warm. Add all the other ingredients you have decided upon and mix well. Cool salad for about 2 hours before serving.

Lemon-Basil Chicken-Pasta Salad  

 4 servings

Ingredients

  • Salt
  • 2 cups uncooked rotini or rotelle (spiral) pasta (6 ounces)
  • 10 asparagus stalks (about 8 ounces)
  • 1 clove garlic 
  • 5 ounces cooked chicken or turkey
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2  cup shredded Parmesan cheese (2 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon peel

Directions:
Fill a 4-quart Dutch oven about half full of water. Add salt and cover with lid; heat over high heat until water is boiling rapidly. Add the pasta. Heat to boiling again. Boil uncovered 9 to 11 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender but not mushy. While water is heating and pasta is cooking, continue with recipe.
Break off and discard the tough ends of the asparagus stalks where they snap easily; wash asparagus. Cut asparagus into 1-inch pieces to measure 2 cups. Add asparagus to the pasta during the last 2 to 3 minutes of cooking.
Peel and finely chop the garlic. Cut the chicken into 1/2-inch cubes to measure about 2 cups. Tear the basil leaves lengthwise into narrow strips.
Place strainer or colander in the sink. Pour pasta and asparagus in the strainer to drain.
In a large bowl, toss pasta, asparagus and chicken. Stir in garlic, basil, cheese, oil and lemon peel. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate 1 to 2 hours or until chilled.

Caesar Pasta Salad

Cooked cold shrimp makes a great addition to this salad.

Yield: Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • Salt
  • 12 ounces curly pasta, such as fusilli 
  • 1 1/2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 9 flat anchovies, chopped
  • 1/4 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 10 cups chopped green leaf lettuce
  • Chopped fresh basil

Directions:

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until just tender, about 10 minutes, or as package label directs.
2. While pasta is cooking, combine garlic, anchovies, lemon juice, mayonnaise, olive oil and 3/4 teaspoon salt in a blender and blend until smooth.
3. Drain pasta. Toss with half of the dressing and tomatoes. Let stand for 10 minutes. Toss with Parmesan.
4. Toss lettuce with remaining dressing and divide among 4 shallow bowls. Spoon pasta salad over lettuce, sprinkle with basil and serve.

Orecchiette with Tomatoes, Fresh Mozzarella and Basil

Taking its cue from Italy’s insalata caprese, this easy dish combines fresh mozzarella cheese with basil and tomatoes. Choose the ripest, most flavorful tomatoes for this delicious pasta salad.
4 servings (serving size: 1 1/2 cups)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups uncooked orecchiette (about 8 ounces uncooked
  • 3 cups chopped plum tomato
  • 1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) diced fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup loosely packed chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

Directions:

Cook pasta according to package directions: drain.
Combine pasta, tomato, and remaining ingredients.
Cover and chill at least 1 hour.

Chicken-Thyme-Penne Salad

Servings: 6 servings (1 cup each)

Ingredients:

  • 11/2 cups uncooked penne pasta (10 oz)
  • 2 cups cubed deli rotisserie or leftover chicken (from a 2- to 2 1/2-lb chicken)
  • 1 cup seedless red grapes, cut in half
  • 1 medium stalk celery, sliced 
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 11/2  tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons chopped fresh or 1 teaspoons dried thyme leaves, crushed
  • 2/3 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise 
  • 1/2 tablespoon milk
  • 1/2 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 tablespoon coarse-grained mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

Directions:
Cook pasta as directed on package and drain.
In large bowl, mix pasta, chicken, grapes, celery and onion.

In small bowl, mix oil and 1/2 tablespoon of the fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon of the dried thyme). Pour oil mixture over chicken mixture; toss to coat. In small bowl, mix mayonnaise, milk, honey, mustard, salt and remaining thyme.

Cover chicken mixture and mayonnaise mixture separately; refrigerate at least 4 hours but no longer than 24 hours. Up to 2 hours before serving, toss chicken mixture and mayonnaise mixture. Cover; refrigerate until serving. Just before serving, stir in 1/4 cup of the walnuts. Sprinkle salad with remaining walnuts.  

Macaroni Salad with Summer Tomatoes

Yield: 8 servings (serving size: about 3/4 cup salad, about 1 tablespoon breadcrumbs, and 3/4 teaspoon basil)

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces uncooked medium elbow macaroni
  • 3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic, divided
  • 4 cups chopped seeded tomato (about 6 tomatoes)
  • 1 (1-ounce) slice sandwich bread
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil

Directions:

Cook elbow macaroni according to package directions. Drain.
Combine white balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon basil, 3/4 teaspoon salt, sugar, and crushed red pepper in a large bowl. Add 2 tablespoons oil and 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic, stirring with a whisk. Add cooked pasta and tomato; toss well to coat.
Place bread in a food processor; pulse 5 times or until coarse crumbs measure 1/2 cup. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add breadcrumbs and remaining 1/2 teaspoon garlic to pan; sauté 2 minutes or until browned and crisp, stirring frequently. Remove from heat; stir in 1/8 teaspoon salt
and basil.  Sprinkle over pasta mixture.

Pesto Pasta Salad

An easy homemade pesto elevates a casual pasta salad. Grilled tuna or scallops would be a good addition.
8 Servings

Ingredients:

Pesto:

  • 3 cups packed fresh basil
  • 1 cup packed fresh parsley
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Salad:

  • 1 pound gemelli or other short pasta
  • 1 cup plain 2 percent Greek yogurt
  • 2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

Directions:

Make pesto: In a food processor puree basil, parsley, garlic, lemon juice, salt, pepper and pine nuts until smooth. With motor running, add olive oil and process until a thick paste forms. Add Parmesan and pulse twice. Season with more salt and pepper, if desired.

Make salad: Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain.
In a large bowl, combine pesto and Greek yogurt and stir until well blended. Add pasta and toss to coat with dressing. Top with tomatoes. Serve salad at room temperature or cover and refrigerate to serve chilled.

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