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
As I practice more and more with healthful, diet-restriction-friendly recipes (you know – vegan, gluten free, paleo, etc.), I find more and more ways to use cauliflower. From cauliflower “steaks” to cauliflower “rice,” the possibilities are seriously endless. A healthy, grain-free version of fried rice is one of my latest projects. Grated cauliflower, diced carrots, yellow onions and chopped red bell peppers make up the bulk of this dish. Then I add flavor with organic, cage-free eggs, a simple tamari-based sauce and a garnish of fresh scallions. For a genuine paleo/whole30 version, simply use coconut aminos instead of tamari. But for me, an organic soy-based tamari does the job perfectly.
When I think about it, many of the recipes I make are inspired by takeout and delivery classics, and this dish is the perfect example. Making your own “takeout” at home is much healthier than ordering out, and cheaper too. But for people who have dietary restrictions, it’s sometimes the only option to be able to enjoy favorite foods and cuisines. A grain-free/gluten-free lifestyle is the driving force behind this dish, but it also qualifies as vegetarian, dairy-free and, if using coconut aminos instead of tamari, paleo-friendly. Serve with a selection of proteins like grilled chicken, vegetables, tofu or steak, and you’ve got a meal that’s customizable enough (and delicious enough) to please a crowd.
Now, let’s go over a couple of my favorite health-supportive benefits of this recipe’s star, cauliflower.
Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable, and one of my all-time favorite vegetables, mostly because it’s super versatile. Cruciferous vegetables (like cauliflower, broccoli, turnips, kale and arugula) contain glucosinolates, a chemical that contains sulfur. When broken down during digestion, glucosinolates turn into compounds associated with anti-cancer effects. Cauliflower is also a great source of fiber, aiding in digestion, and also a great source of Vitamins K & C. Cauliflower is high in several powerful antioxidants, which are essential in providing adequate defense to your cells, which is believed to help your body in fighting off illnesses such as cancer.
Grain-Free Cauliflower Fried “Rice”
Serves: 2 (main) or 4 (side dish) Start to Finish: 25 minutes
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons canola or coconut oil (organic preferred), divided
4 cups raw cauliflower rice*
1 teaspoon dried ginger
1.5 teaspoons sea salt, fine grain, divided
2 tablespoons tamari (use coconut aminos instead for paleo/whole30 version)
2 eggs (cage-free, organic preferred)
chopped scallions, garnish (1-2 scallions is enough)
Note: You may want to use a non-stick skillet or wok for this recipe. My stainless steel pan worked well for this recipe with no sticking/burning issues, but a non-stick skillet will be more fool-proof.
Prep carrots, peppers, onion and garlic. Using a box grater or food processor, grate large cauliflower florets into cauliflower “rice.” Use the stem portion of the florets too.
Crack eggs into a bowl and scramble with a fork. Set aside.
Heat 1.5 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add carrots, peppers, onions, garlic and 1 teaspoon sea salt to pan. Cook for 5-6 minutes, until vegetables have softened and released liquid. Add grated cauliflower and ginger to pan. Cook for another 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until moisture from cauliflower is released and evaporated.
Add tamari (or coconut aminos) to pan, toss to coat, and cook for about 2 minutes, until excess moisture is removed. Push cauliflower aside and add remaining oil to open space in pan. Add scrambled eggs to oil. Frequently use a spoon to cut through liquified eggs in order to rotate uncooked eggs into the heat. Just as the egg solidifies (after about a minute), mix the cauliflower mixture into the eggs. Season with sea salt to taste (I added an additional 1/2 teaspoon) and cook for 1-2 minutes, until excess moisture is gone.
Garnish with scallions, serve immediately.
*1 head of caulifower is plenty for this recipe. You can also purchase pre-riced cauliflower in the freezer and/or produce section of many supermarkets.
Benefits of Cauliflower