Best of Basic: Loaded Italian Pasta Salad

Best of Basic: Loaded Italian Pasta Salad

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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.

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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!

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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.

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loads of roasted veggies + pasta salad side dish = delish main meal

Best of Basic: Loaded Italian Pasta Salad
Serves: 8 (large side dish portion)   Start to Finish: 30 min + chilling time

Ingredients

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)

To Make

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.

*Pasta Options
– 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

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Best of Basic: Basil Pesto Sauce

Best of Basic: Basil Pesto Sauce

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My recent vacation to my family’s summer cottage in Canada was super inspirational in terms of cooking and food. To no one’s surprise we ate well and often, and had a blast in the kitchen along the way. The inspiration for this post came from spending time cooking with my mom, who is the master chef in my life. She is the queen of delicious, simple and inventive cooking and, somehow, everything always tastes better when she makes it.

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One of my favorite meals from the trip was my mom’s loaded pesto pasta with sundried tomatoes, pine nuts, zucchini and fresh basil. She’s not inventing the wheel with this one, as pesto pasta is pretty standard, but watching her throw it together in a matter of minutes made me wonder why I wasn’t taking advantage of how easy a pesto pasta comes together. I’ve said it before, I need more recipes that can be thrown together in a pinch with minimal effort, and this pasta dish falls under that category. I’ll talk more about the specifics of her awesome loaded pesto pasta in a later post, but today, I’m just focusing on the actual pesto.

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In addition to my mom’s pasta, I’ve been seeing and eating pesto everywhere these days. My favorite pizza place in Williamsburg (Vinnie’s) uses a pesto vinaigrette as the dressing on my favorite salad, and while driving from our cottage to the Toronto airport we stopped for lunch where I had an amazing Caprese salad layered with pesto instead of fresh basil. Finally, on a recent trip to St. Louis, I ordered a pizza at my fave spot (called Pi) that drizzled pesto on top just before serving. It’s clear that a go-to pesto recipe is a must.

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I’ve made pesto before, although it’s been awhile, and I’ve seen it made on TV loads of times. It’s quite simple and always pretty much the same. Use a food processor to blend the seven uncooked ingredients and you’re done. Yes, that’s it. It’s literally a five to ten minute process. Those seven ingredients are basil, garlic, nuts, olive oil, salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese. Taking a tip from my girl Ina Garten, I used a mixture of pine nuts and walnuts, but you can use one or the other if preferred. Of course, freshly grated Parmesan is ideal, but I used pre-grated from Whole Foods this time because I didn’t feel like adding another step to the process (the easier the better!). The last thing I will say about pesto is that, in order to keep it looking fresh and bright, remove all air before storing in the fridge or freezer. I find that a layer of plastic wrap directly on top of the pesto before covering with a lid is the way to go.


So without further ado, my recipe for classic and simple basil pesto, to be used on anything from pasta to pizza to salad.

Happy summer and happy Friday!

Best of Basic: Basil Pesto
Serves: 8 (2 tbs per serving)   Start to Finish: 10 minutes

Ingredients

2 cups Fresh Basil Leaves, packed
3 cloves Garlic, peeled and roughly chopped (use 4 cloves if you absolutely love garlic)
1/3 cup total Pine Nuts and/or Walnuts
2/3 cup Olive Oil
Sea Salt & Black Pepper, to taste (I used 1 tsp each)
1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese

To Make

Combine basil, garlic and nuts in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Pulse until fine. While food processor is on, drizzle in olive oil. Add Parmesan, pulse until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pulse until well combined.

Makes about 1 cup of pesto

Jalapeño Popper Mac & Cheese

Jalapeño Popper Mac & Cheese

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February is just around the corner, and for many, that means the climax of the never-ending football season…the super bowl. However, I am most definitely not one of those people. I may be a fool to admit this, but I don’t care about football. It just doesn’t do it for me. But because Super Bowl Sunday is considered a national holiday in my household, which is pretty much a real life version of “the new girl”, I feel obligated to enjoy something when it comes to this classic American pastime. And, to no one’s surprise, that something is the food. I can definitely get on board for football Sundays when that means yummy bar snacks and fun finger foods. But when I’m in charge, these classic game day dishes need a makeover to meet my two standards, meat-free and wholesome (even if indulgent). And that’s where Jalapeño Popper Macaroni and Cheese comes in. Continue reading “Jalapeño Popper Mac & Cheese”