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Monday, September 19, 2011

Late Summer Pasta Salads






We were blessed to have a little rain over the weekend after a prolonged dry spell. Nothing like so many parts of the country, of course, but we had been spoiled by plenty of moisture well into August, so having to water the garden (and the raspberries--always the raspberries!) was something we hadn't had to do earlier in the season.

Now, on Monday afternoon, the sun is shining, the temperature is just right and it looks like a long scheduled picnic this evening hit just the right day. It's a potluck so I decided on a pasta salad along with my usual apple-raspberry crisp. (If I told you how many times a season I make this for various events, you'd probably laugh and wonder why I don't try something new. Hey, I say, stick with the tried and true, especially if people still are asking for the recipe.)

Over the years, pasta salads have taken on all kinds of variations, a far cry from the few choices back in the 60s and 70s when this usually meant tuna salad (elbow macaroni, a can of peas--or daringly, thawed and cooked frozen peas and tuna) or perhaps one with chunks of Velveeta substituted for the tuna. If the cook was really up-to-date, she might even stir in a few black or green olives (never both) and some steamed broccoli sprigs.

Then came an explosion of pasta salad variations, and a typical summer potluck can now be counted on to have three or four kinds at a minimum. Today's entry is one that uses some farmers' market finds, with the vegetables chosen for color as well as taste. In addition my master gardening neighbor gave me a giant basil plant so I have lots of this to add flavor to many different dishes.

The recipe below should be considered just a start. After the basics (for me, that means a little onion and some celery for crunch), look at what you have available. Color and flavor combinations should both be considered. The nice thing with vegetables is that, in general, nutrition follows color, so the brighter and more contrasting the choices, the healthier the salad is likely to be.

Following the recipe are some suggestions for making the salad your own.




Pasta and Vegetable Salad for Fall

1 c broccoli flowerets
1/4 to 1/3 c finely diced sweet onion, to taste
3/4 c diced or sliced celery
1 1/2 c shredded red cabbage
3/4 c thinly sliced yellow squash
1 t olive oil
1 minced garlic clove OR 1/2 t garlic powder
1/4 t salt
8 ounces radiatore or other medium-sized pasta
1 T minced fresh basil
1 t lemon juice
1 T sugar or to taste
1 to 1 1/2 c plain yogurt
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Cook pasta according to directions until just done.

2. Meanwhile, place the broccoli in a microwave-safe dish with a teaspoon or so of water; cover and microwave on high for 1 minute. Remove and rinse lightly in cold water.

3. Using the same dish, combine the sliced yellow squash, the olive oil, garlic and salt. Toss lightly and then microwave for 45 seconds to one minute.

4. Stir the sugar, lemon juice and 1 cup yogurt together, adding about 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

5. Combine all the vegetables with the pasta and basil in a large bowl. Pour the yogurt dressing over and toss. If needed, stir in more yogurt to desired consistency. Add freshly ground pepper and more salt to taste. Refrigerate for at least an hour or two, to be sure flavors are well blended.



Variations


Dressing

You will note that the dressing is low fat because of the use of yogurt instead of mayonnaise. Even the oil used when steaming the squash could be omitted, but I like adding that little bit to infuse this otherwise slightly bland vegetable with more flavor. If you wish, you could just substitute mayonnaise, Miracle Whip type salad dressing or any other dressings of your choice, but this dressing along with whatever herbs you choose will allow the flavors of the vegetables to predominate.

Pasta

Whenever there is a special on pasta, I like to try some of the more unusual shapes. The grandchildren have learned that mac and cheese doesn't always come in little elbows, and they now look forward to some of the variations. Something different, like today's radiatore, can also add interest to a salad as well.

Other Vegetables
  • Carrots, grated or sliced (if sliced, steam these lightly as with the broccoli and yellow squash)
  • Green cabbage instead of, or in addition to, red cabbage
  • Diced bell pepper, any and all colors
  • Frozen peas--DON'T thaw; just toss into the salad straight from the freezer
  • Sugar peas
  • Diced beets! If these are used, I'd add them just before serving, to avoid getting an overall pink salad
  • Cauliflower, prepared as with the broccoli

Herbs
As mentioned, I have a wonderful supply of sweet basil to use, but you might want to try fresh dill instead, if that is in your garden. When there are no fresh herbs, a mixture of dried basil, rosemary, and thyme is always good, but you can also try whatever suits your fancy for the day.

Other additions
This was made as a side salad, but the addition of diced cheese, some garbanzo beans, chopped hard boiled eggs, or diced ham could move it to main dish status. Served with sliced tomatoes from the garden and some fresh fruit, you'd have a great and simple make-ahead meal.
Black or green olives are always something to be considered, for color and a bit of salty taste.
A little crumbled bacon could also provide a flavor and texture contrast.

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