Sunday, August 10, 2014

Pasta The Salad Please!

During the summer, I rarely turn on my oven. My apartment has no AC, which means that even with fans, the place can get warm in a hurry! So, a lot of my evening meals are salad plates or various kinds of salads.

One of my faves is a pasta salad! There is SO much you can do with a pasta salad! I cook up the pasta in the morning while the kitchen is still relatively cool. After draining and rinsing the pasta, I either make up the salad for that day's evening meal or store the pasta in an air tight container in the fridge till I'm ready to make the salad. I also switch up the type of pasta for more variety. I've used broken linguini or fettuccini for a Greek or Italian inspired pasta salad in the past, but my go to pastas tend to be macaroni, baby shells, spiral/corkscrew or the rainbow mix. I generally buy Catelli brand pasta as I like the quality and flavour. It goes on sale fairly often in this part of the country so I just buy an extra box or two when my supplies are running low.
There really aren't any rules to making a pasta salad - other than adding some kind of pasta of course! You can add as many different veggies as you want in whatever quantities you want. You can add fish such as tuna or salmon. How about ham, shredded pork, beef, chicken or turkey? Cheese can also be a great addition for texture and flavour. Lots of possibilities there! Personally, I go fairly light on the protein and dairy for the salads - choosing to focus more on the veggies and pasta. The choice is yours though, so feel free to play with quantities!

Seasonings - both fresh and dried such as, basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, parsley, garlic powder or a blend such as the "No Salt Added" ones made by McCormick's add a great dimension to the flavour! I use the McCormick's blends for seasoning SO many dishes as it adds great flavour without the salt! Lots of flavours to choose from on the spice aisle! The dressing can be as simple as mayo, some bottled dressing or a homemade favourite!
A full on pasta salad is a meal in itself! With all the veggies, meat/fish/poultry, cheese and pasta it has all the food groups covered in one dish!  Whole wheat pastas and a light dressing also help to reduce calories! Without the fish, meat or poultry, this is still a great salad on its own or you can serve it alongside grilled meat, poultry or fish.

As you can see, the possibilities are pretty much deliciously endless!

Today, I'm sharing my basic Pasta Salad. This can be made with canned tuna, salmon or a variety of other proteins. Check the notes at the bottom. I've also included a note with other suggestions for dressings.

I'm posting two versions of this recipe. The first is for 4-6 servings. The second is for a single serving. I make the single serving more often than not, but I still cook the full amount of pasta as for the 4-6 serving, then store covered in the fridge to make each days salad fresh. The cooked pasta (without ANY of the additional ingredients!) can be kept in the fridge for up to four days. Any fully prepared salad should be eaten within two days.

Pasta Salad
4 cups cooked pasta such as elbow, corkscrew/spiral, baby shells or rainbow mix (that's about 2 cups of the dried pasta before cooking)
1 170gram/6ounce can tuna (packed in water), drained*
1/3 cup chopped celery
1/3 cup chopped carrots
1/3 cup chopped green onion
1/3 cup diced red or orange sweet bell pepper
1/3 cup chopped broccoli florets
1/3 cup diced mushrooms (about 3 large or 4 medium white)
1/3 cup diced cucumber (I prefer long english as no need to peel or seed)
1/3 cup cheese such as cheddar, Mozzarella, Havarti or Monterey Jack
1/4 teaspoon McCormick's Citrus & Pepper Seasoning (no salt added)
1/4 teaspoon McCormick's Garlic & Herb Seasoning (no salt added)
1/2 teaspoon dried basil OR 1 teaspoon fresh
1/2 cup Ranch or Caesar dressing, light**
dash of salt and freshly ground pepper if desired/needed
4-5 cups torn lettuce - leaf or romaine
2 medium tomatoes, cut in small wedges or 16 - 20 grape/cherry tomatoes halved

In a large bowl, gently combine all but the last TWO ingredients. If the mixture seems too dry, add 1 Tablespoon more dressing at a time, mixing thoroughly to combine. Repeat with another Tablespoon if necessary.

Divide the torn lettuce leaves evenly between four dinner sized serving plates. Place the lettuce in a ring around the edge of the plate.
Divide the combined salad ingredients among the four plates - leaving at least a bit of the lettuce showing around the rim. Garnish with the tomatoes - either on top of the lettuce around the edge or on top of the salad.

Serves 4 as an entrée. This could also be divided into 6 servings on luncheon sized plates if smaller portions are desired. Add a serving of bread such as a baking powder biscuit, baguette, french, or focaccia on the side of each plate if desired.

Pasta Salad (single serving)
1 cup cooked pasta such as elbow, corkscrew/spiral, baby shells or rainbow mix
3 Tablespoons tuna*
2/3 cup chopped various raw vegetables - such as celery, carrot, green onion, sweet bell pepper, cucumber, mushrooms, broccoli etc - in whatever quantities you prefer
2 Tablespoons diced or grated cheese such as cheddar, mozzarella, havarti or monterey jack
dash McCormick's Citrus & Pepper Seasoning (no salt added)
dash McCormick's Garlic & Herb Seasoning (no salt added)
1/8 teaspoon dried basil or 1/4 teaspoon fresh
2-3 Tablespoons Ranch or Caesar dressing, light**
dash of salt and freshly ground pepper if desired/needed
1 - 1 1/4 cups torn lettuce - leaf or romaine
1/2 medium tomato, cut in small wedges or 3-4 grape/cherry tomatoes halved

Prepare as above and serve with a bread if desired

* Rather than the tuna, you can substitute canned salmon, (skin and bones removed), 1/2 - 2/3 cup diced ham or diced cooked chicken/turkey, shredded cooked pork or shredded/diced cooked beef (2 - 3 Tablespoons for the single serving). A little fish, meat or poultry goes a long way in a pasta salad!
** Rather than using Ranch or Caesar as the dressing, you could substitute with 1/2 cup of a bottled dressing such as Sweet Onion Dressing (pictured below), Italian, Roasted Red Pepper, Greek, or Sun Dried Tomato. You could also use a light mayo such as Miracle Whip or a homemade dressing. Add the dressing and combine. If it seems a bit too dry, add an additional Tablespoon of your chosen dressing at a time - mixing after each addition so you don't saturate the salad. If making the "Pasta Salad (single serving)" add about 2 Tablespoons of the dressing to start and more if needed.

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