It's hard to find a salad bar or picnic buffet that doesn't feature a pasta salad. The concept is great - pasta and fresh vegetables coming together in a tasty side dish or light meal. The reality is frequently disappointing: overcooked pasta and more meats and cheeses than vegetables swimming in an excess of dressing.
Our pasta salad is just what it should be. Firm to the tooth pasta lightly dressed with a good balance of tomatoes and basil.
The ingredients in this dish are a good example of what is being called the "Mediterranean Diet". This diet is touted for being heart healthy and contributing to longevity. Some of the main components are olive oil, tomatoes, basil, and garlic - which are the ingredients in our pasta salad as well!
Tomatoes are low in fat and calories but high in fiber. They are full of vitamins and nutrients, especially vitamins A and C and potassium. Tomatoes are reported to possibly help prevent cancers and control fat cells. The deeper red varieties seem to offer the most protection, though all tomatoes offer benefits.
Garlic is also said to promote heart health and may even boost the metabolism. Olive oil, with its large doses of Vitamin E and K. has a non- selective inhibitor similar to that found in aspirin that also aids in keeping the heart healthy.
Basil is not just a pretty taste! Like most herbs, basil is packed with vitamins and nutrients and adds so much more than delicious flavor. Basil has anti-oxidant properties and offers vitamins A and C, beta carotene, calcium, iron, and magnesium! Those little leaves pack a punch. Consider adding some basil to other dishes and fresh salads to increase flavor without adding fat or significant calories.
Equally important is taste; what good is a healthy dish that no one wants to eat! Be sure to cook the pasta just to a firm texture in salted, boiling water. Cherry (or grape) tomatoes offer a good flavor all year, but while tomatoes are at their peak of freshness, plum or roma tomatoes could be substituted. Cut them into a bite size dice.
Letting the tomatoes marinate creates a flavorful but light mixture with which to dress the salad. The tomato juices mingle with the oil to make a subtle, low acid vinaigrette - just enough to coat the pasta without leaving it swimming and soggy.
Add fresh mozzarella if desired - it is not necessary to the success of the dish but does add some flavor and protein. Tear the mozzarella in bite side pieces rather than cutting it: the ragged edges will hold in more of the flavorful dressing. A couple of tablespoons of freshly grated parmesan or Romano cheese add a depth of flavor.
This salad is best served as soon as it's made, but because it is not over dressed it does hold up well.
Salad with Basil and TomatoIngredients
- 12 oz. Pasta (fusilli, orecchiette, or rotini work best)
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- ½ cup + 1 TBS olive oil
- ½ cup fresh basil
- grated parmesan to taste (up to ¼ cup)
- optional: 4 oz of fresh mozzarella
- Halve the cherry tomatoes, mince the garlic, and slice the fresh basil into thin ribbons.
- Toss all together along with the salt, pepper, and the ½ cup of olive oil.
- Set aside for 30 minutes up to 2 hours to meld the flavors.
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salted water. Don't overcook - the pasta should be al dente - slightly firm - when eaten.
- Drain and toss the pasta with the 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Let the pasta cool.
- Toss the tomato mixture with the pasta.
- Tear the mozzarella (if using) into small pieces and add to the pasta.
- Add some grated parmesan to taste. Not much parmesan is needed, particularly if mozzarella is being used.
- Serve immediately. This pasta salad is best when freshly made.
for more information and expanded ideas.
This class is made possible through the generosity of Legacy Village Giant Eagle. Please patronize them and let them know if you enjoyed the class!
Want to win a Goodie Bag of Spices? E-mail us with your favorite recipe or kitchen tip and you may win a big bag of spices for your kitchen!