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: Oven-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

Best of Basic: Oven-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

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Every so often, when I’m feeling a little sluggish, or feeling like I’ve been particularly indulgent lately, I like to reset my routine and get back on track. This detox, as I like to call it, could last for a couple days, or if I’m feeling super motivated, a few weeks. With summer just around the corner, I thought it a good idea to do a lengthy detox to kick off swimsuit season… lose the bloat, gain some energy, reset my metabolism and maybe even shed a few pounds. Sounds great, right? You might be thinking “no, that does not sound great”, but I honestly love my detoxes because not only do they make me feel amazing but they’re also quite fun and delicious, when you do it my way.

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Even when I’m detoxing, I refuse to sacrifice flavor or give up on my favorite foods entirely. I hate eating just for the sake of eating. I like to always enjoy and feel good about what I’m eating. So I find creative ways to make detoxing enjoyable. And these roasted cherry tomatoes are a great example of how I add flavor and interest in a light and healthy way. Roasted tomatoes are delicious in salads, on sandwiches, and in pasta, but are equally as yummy when used as a simple side dish to meat, tofu, or fish. I could seriously eat the entire batch in one sitting with only a spoon.

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Roasting tomatoes is super simple because I keep it very basic. There’s simply no need to make it implicated here. Just add a little bit of quality olive oil, some garlic, sea salt, and black pepper to the halved tomatoes, and then roast for 30-40 minutes. Perfection. Roasting brings out the natural sweetness of the tomatoes and makes them super soft and juicy. They are the perfect way to add moisture and intense flavor without adding excess fat or dairy.

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This batch of Roasted Cherry Tomatoes is for stuffing into pita pockets along with flavorful white bean dip and fresh spinach. This pita sandwich is simple, light, balanced, and will make a perfectly detox-friendly lunch this week. And don’t worry, my upcoming posts will focus on daily detox meal plans and recipes, including this delicious sandwich. Stay tuned!


Oven-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
Serves: 4   Start to Finish: 45 minutes

Ingredients

2 pints Cherry Tomatoes
4 cloves Garlic, crushed, peeled, roughly minced
1/2 tablespoon Olive Oil
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt (plus more)
1/4 Black Pepper

To Make

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

Combine tomatoes, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper in a medium size bowl. Spread out onto a lined baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and toss, re-spreading tomatoes out into a single layer. Bake for an additional 20 minutes. Remove from oven. Allow to cool slightly, sprinkle with an additional 1/8-1/4 teaspoon salt and toss. Serve warm, cold or at room temperature.

*for simplicity’s sake, I often roast the tomatoes whole and also leave out the garlic and black pepper – cooking time for uncut cherry tomatoes will be slightly longer – bake until most of the tomatoes have bursted and the skins are browning – these tomatoes are super delicious with just olive oil and salt