This recipe is an improvement on Becca’s Pasta Salad, which was a staple of our diet for years until our gradually improving eating habits made us more aware of its flaws: It contains no significant protein (pasta has a little bit; whole-wheat pasta has more), and it relies on two condiments that tend to be pricey and full of additives. We’ve found brands of canned fried onions without additives (Valu Time and Trader Joe’s) but they’re still not a healthy food.
After some experimentation, I developed this ***NEW!!!***IMPROVED!!!*** more nutritious Pasta Salad. Note that you can reserve some of the cooked pasta and veggies for the Original Recipe treatment and use the Improved Recipe on the rest, thus pleasing a variety of palates or just giving yourself some variety as you eat leftovers.
Both versions of Pasta Salad are extremely versatile as to which vegetables you use, which makes this an ideal recipe for summer when your garden or farm-share crate is overflowing and you’ve got an array of random vegetables. The only rule is to avoid using just starchy veggies like summer squash, carrots, or beans, because combined with pasta they’ll put you in a carbohydrate coma; aim for at least one-third of the veggies to be green ones.
This recipe is great for potlucks. It’s vegan, but many omnivores like it too. It still tastes good if it cools to room temperature, and it’s not especially prone to spoilage.
Another option is to make this from leftovers by preparing the sauce in a large pot and then heating up previously-cooked veggies and pasta in it.
We tend to make a huge vat of Pasta Salad so we can have a meal and then pack portions to take for lunch, so rather than state quantities, I’ll give relative proportions.
You will need:
- pasta (whole-grain is great; multicolored rotini looks nice)
- fresh or frozen vegetables–at least as much as pasta, up to twice as much
- lots of olive oil–about 1/2 cup per pound of pasta
- onion–about 1 small or 1/2 large onion, or 2 green onions, per pound of pasta
- fresh or dried herbs like dill, parsley, rosemary, oregano, tarragon–enough to generously sprinkle into the oil, about 1 Tbsp. total herbs per pound of pasta
- nutritional yeast flakes (huh?)–enough to generously cover the top surface of the cooked pasta and veggies
- shelled sunflower seeds (or chopped walnuts or pecans)–enough to top each portion
- salt, if seeds/nuts are not salted
- tomato (optional)
- a big pot with lid
- another pot, ideally a deep skillet
- a colander (pasta drainer)
Fill the big pot with water, cover, and bring to a boil.
Cut up all the veggies and divide them into two categories:
- The ones that will get boiled with the pasta are those that are in big, dense chunks: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, carrots and zucchini if in big pieces, etc.
- The ones that will get cooked in the oil are those that are thin and cook quickly: spinach, carrots and zucchini if sliced thinly, kale shredded with stems removed, mushrooms, etc. Spinach or any shredded vegetable can be cooked in the oil even if it’s frozen; just break it into chunks as much as possible before adding it and then break it up with the spoon as it thaws. Note that when you cook veggies in the oil, their flavor and vitamins go into the oil, instead of partly going down the drain with the boiling water.
When water boils, add pasta and boilable veggies. Cook until they reach desired tenderness. Drain.
Meanwhile, put olive oil, onion, and fryable veggies in the other pot over medium-high heat. When oil starts bubbling, reduce heat. When onion begins to brown, add herbs and salt (if needed). Simmer until onion is fully cooked.
This step can be done in the pasta pot or on your plate: Cover top surface of pasta with yeast flakes. Add oil mixture. Stir thoroughly until yeast flakes dissolve into oil, making a sauce that coats pasta and veggies. Top with sunflower seeds and optional tomato.
UPDATE: This recipe is included in a Meatless Mondays blog carnival that features a delicious-sounding recipe for Brown Rice Salad! FURTHER UPDATE: That Brown Rice Salad is totally awesome! Perfect for picnics, potlucks, lunch at work, etc. It has a pleasant texture, not that exoskeleton-like crunch that normally makes me dislike brown rice. I made it late at night when the weather was cool, to eat on hot days.
ANOTHER UPDATE: I just realized I’d somehow failed ever to share this recipe at the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop! Check out all the comforting, wholesome foods there!