Is it possible that June is already coming to an end? Fine by me, because I’ll be spending the first days of July on vacation. A glorious 10 day vaca in a remote area of Lake Huron in Ontario, Canada, it’s pretty much my favorite place on earth. You see, my extended family owns a modest island, smack dab in the middle of the wilderness, and it can only be described as rustic, comfortable, and totally epic. We sleep in sleeping bags and spend 80% of the day without electricity. We spend our days on the lake and evenings by the fire. And the breeze coming off the water at night, while falling asleep in the open air cabins, is pure magic.
This year, I’ll be heading up a bit earlier than usual and spending the first week of July on the island with my parents. But that means, I’ll be missing America’s birthday. I first want to say that I’m not trying to make a political statement here. Although I’d be lying if I said moving out of Trump country hasn’t crossed my mind. But I love the States, and because I’ll be missing one of the best celebrations of summer, I wanted to share a perfect (and easy) recipe for a BBQ-must-have… Loaded Italian Pasta Salad.
I actually developed this recipe a couple weekends ago when I was visiting my hometown, St. Louis. While everyone else enjoyed this delish pasta salad alongside turkey burgers, I instead, topped it with a medley of grilled veggies, making it a scrumptious main dish for a meat-free eater. Added bonus, this salad can be made gluten-free (using a gluten-free pasta) or made vegan (by omitting the fresh mozzarella balls). Finicky foodies rejoice!
Other than being diet-restriction friendly, this “best of basic” pasta salad is amazing for two reasons. Firstly because it’s a cinch to make. In the time it takes to cook the pasta, the remainder of the ingredients are ready to go. Then all that’s left is a chill session in the fridge to bring everything together. The second reason is because this pasta salad is packed with fresh flavor from basil leaves and cherry tomatoes, texture from al dente pasta, beans and artichokes, and health supportive because of protein, fiber, vitamins and healthy fats. Finally, the simple vinaigrette, flavored with oregano, dry mustard and garlic powder, brings it all home by adding even more flavor and richness. This pasta salad is seriously perfect. So if you’re looking for a clean, balanced and crowd-pleasing pasta salad to be your go-to summer side dish, look no further. This is it.
Best of Basic: Loaded Italian Pasta Salad
Serves: 8 (large side dish portion) Start to Finish: 30 min + chilling time
1 lb (16 ounces) pasta of choice* (see below for notes)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1.5 teaspoons sea salt, fine grain
1.5 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried mustard
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (or granulated garlic)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon maple syrup, or sweetener of choice, optional**
1 12-oz can white beans, drained and rinsed
1 12-oz can artichoke hearts, quartered
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered (depending on size)
1 5-oz can sliced black olives
1 5-oz can pimentos
25 medium basil leaves, about 1 small package, chopped or cut into chiffonade
8-oz fresh mozzarella, I prefer the mini balls (if using a large ball, cut into small pieces)
Bring 5 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and pasta. Cook until al dente. I usually drain the pasta about 1-3 minutes earlier than package instructions say to cook. The best way to know? Try 2-3 noodles. When some noodles are cooked and some noodles seem under-cooked, they’re ready. After the pasta sits in the dressing, the underdone noodles will finish cooking. Avoid over cooking noodles, they will far apart after marinading.
While water boils and pasta cooks. Prepare dressing. In a blender, or using a hand blender, combine ingredients olive oil through maple syrup. Blend until fully emulsified. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine ingredients white beans through pimentos. Toss with cooked/drained pasta (still hot) and prepped vinaigrette. Allow to cool down to room temp (about 10 minutes). Toss mozzarella and basil with pasta salad. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until fully chilled. However, the longer it sits, the better it gets. Make 1 day ahead if possible.
– I chose an organic, white flour variety for a classic pasta salad
– Use whole wheat for additional fiber, a chewier texture and a nuttier flavor
– Use a gluten-free pasta if desired, I love Banza brand
– As for shape, penne, fusilli and bowtie are my top choices – I used penne here
**I think a bit of sweetener (just 1 tbs for 8 servings) makes the dressing more palatable and makes the salad more of a crowd-pleaser. Feel free to omit the sweetener or add less
It’s April. Not a month typically viewed as stick-to-your-bones-soup-worthy. But I am once again reminded that my black and white vision of what the weather should look like during each month is totally irrelevant. Mother Nature does what she wants, and although she had the whole month of March to transition to true Spring, it’s still winter . You see, I can be patient with cold weather in March. But 40 degrees in April is just plain UGH.
However, instead of dwelling on my disappointment and unwavering desire to wear a skirt without tights, I decided to use this annoying down-coat-weather as a reason to make one last batch of hot and hearty cold-weather soup. What kind of soup? Something stick to your ribs, totally satisfying, and 100% healthy. Almost as fast as the idea for soup materialized, the thought of a vegan Mushroom & Barley Soup came to mind immediately. Back in the day, I loved eating my mom’s Beef & Barley Soup, and nostalgia typically drives many of my ideas. So my inkling to make a rich and flavorful batch of my mom’s soup (minus the meat) comes as no surprise.
Soups are generally pretty simple. Especially when using store-bought broth. This soup is just that: simple. Sautéed vegetables, organic veggie broth, fresh thyme and barley. That’s about it. I use thyme here because I love the flavor of mushrooms and thyme together, and because I find that the combination adds richness and substance that would normally come from the beef. To add even more heartiness and substance, at the very end of cooking I add a cornstarch slurry, which thickens the soup beautifully.
My Mushroom & Barley Soup is definitely one to keep in the recipe box. It is not only super healthy, packed with fresh vegetables, whole grains, and fiber, but it’s also vegan-friendly and oh so yummy. For dinner on Sunday, I made grilled Swiss cheese sandwiches to go alongside the soup, and for lunch leftovers I ate the soup with a couple hunks of bakery-fresh whole wheat peasant bread that perfect for dipping and soaking. Delicious. This soup is just plain awesome. So I guess I’d like to end this post by thanking Mother Nature for giving me the opportunity to create this recipe. But I’d still really like some 60 degree days in the very near future, ok?
Vegan Mushroom Barley Soup
Serves: 4-6 Start to Finish: 90 min.
1/4 cup Olive Oil
2 large Carrots, peeled and cut into medium dice
1 large Onion, medium to small dice
2 large stalks Celery, cut into medium dice
1 Red Bell Pepper, cut into medium dice
4 cloves Garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 lb Portobello Caps, cut into medium-large dice
10 ounces White Button Mushrooms, cut into medium-large dice
2 tablespoons fresh chopped Thyme leaves, divided
4 cups Organic Veggie Stock
1 cup dry Barley
2 tablespoons Corn Starch + 1/3 cup Water
3 teaspoons Frank’s Red Hot Sauce (or preferred brand added to taste)
Prep and chop all veggies. I like the veggies big enough to see and taste, but cut to any size you prefer.
Heat oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add celery, carrots, onion, and red pepper to oil. Toss to coat. Cook for 5 minutes. Add garlic to pot, toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper (I used 1/2 teaspoon of each). Cook for 5 minutes.badd mushrooms. Cook for 5 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon thyme and season with salt (I used 1/2 teaspoon). Cook for 2 minutes. Add veggie stock and dry barley to pot. Turn heat to high and bring to boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer until barley is cooked, 45-60 minutes.
With a couple minutes to go, mix 2 tablespoons cornstarch with 1/3 cup cold water. When barley is fully cooked, add the cornstarch “slurry” mixture to pot. Add remaining tablespoon thyme and an additional 1/2 cup water (or more depending on desired consistency). Bring to boil and cook for 1-2 minutes until soup is thickened from cornstarch. Turn off heat. Salt to taste (I added 1/2 teaspoon) and add hot sauce. Note that the hot sauce adds a much need cut of vinegar, it does not make it spicy unless you add more than I did.
The soup is now ready to eat. Continue adding water if desired, to maintain ideal consistency. I like it super thick so I didn’t add any additional water.