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Tuscan Pasta Salad

Tuscan Pasta Salad

There is no doubt that pasta salad is a summer staple.  You can’t go to a picnic, barbecue or summer shindig without finding some sort of noodle concoction. It’s like getting a hot dog at a baseball game…it’s just going to happen. So it’s safe to say that you will come in close contact with a big bowl of cold farfalle, rotini or fusilli. (Hopefully, it’s a tasty one!)

Let’s take a moment to talk about how pasta salad has evolved. Long gone are the days of a elbow macaroni mixed with canned tuna fish, sitting in a bath of mayonnaise. (I’m not knocking anyone still loves this version. On occasion, I walk down memory lane with the retro dish and can almost transport back in time to when I was 10 years old.) Next, we saw veggies venture into the party; chopped red onion and green pepper, chunks of cucumber and tomato with a vinaigrette type dressing. Good, but still room for improvement. There was just something missing. Maybe it was the texture of biting into a chunk of crunchy green pepper and a tender piece of pasta. It’s not a perfect match for me. We can do better!!!

The search was born. About 10 years ago, I stumbled upon a recipe that called for adding Italian deli meats to a pasta and veggie type salad. Just the springboard I needed!!! Over the years, I’ve experimented with all kinds of veggies, meats, pasta shapes and dressings. No surprise; I found that salty meats like salami or pepperoni work best. Of course!!!

I also wanted the flavor of the veggies, but a little less crunch, so I started lightly grilling or roasting some of the veggies. This deepened the flavors while softening the veggies a little. Combining these grilled veggies with traditional Italian antipasto vegetables like olives, marinated artickokes and roasted red peppers did the trick.

I also found that adding cheese helps to round out the flavors for the perfect bite every mouthful. Chunks of provolone or cheddar or fresh mozzarella balls were my best contenders. A good pasta salad should be put together a few hours in advance so the pasta has a chance to cool completely and the flavors marry. EXCEPT the cheese…Our friend, cheese is a fickle dude, if he hangs out too long before serving he gets mushy and watery. Who wants that??? To avoid this, I fold the chunks of cheese into the salad right before serving.

So, are you ready to party…picnic, BBQ or potluck? And are you ready for the many compliments that are sure to come your way? Soak it up my friend, you’ve got this!

If you are gluten free, dairy free or vegetarian, no worries, we can tailor this dish to you too. Please see my suggestions at the end of the recipe to make this yours. There are so many possibilities. Cooking should be fun, enjoyable and all about YOU! Tailor recipes to what you like and be creative. It’s your kitchen, get empowered and have FUN!

1 bell pepper, any color, seeded and chopped
1 yellow squash, chopped
1 zucchini squash, chopped
1 red onion, cut into 3/4 inch slices
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 1/2 lbs pasta (I like multi-colored rotini)
1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half
6 oz. black olives, cut in half
6 oz. kalamata olives, cut in half
12 oz. marinated artichoke hearts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
8oz. Genoa salami or pepperoni
24 oz. Italian or vinaigrette dressing (your favorite store bought brand)
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (or more if you like spice)
16 oz. cheese, cut into 1/2 inch chunks (for this recipe I used an artisan cheddar with pepperoni, but Provolone or fresh mozzarella can be used too)

Prepare pasta according to package directions. While waiting for the water to boil, preheat your grill to med-low heat (or oven to 350, if you plan to roast your veggies). Combine chopped bell pepper, yellow and zucchini squash and red onion in a large mixing bowl. In small mixing bowl; combine olive oil, garlic and onion powders and salt and pepper. Pour over veggies, tossing to coat. Grill veggies on a grill pan for 4-6 minutes or until they start to get tender, stirring halfway through. (Follow the same instructions if roasting. You may need to increase cooking time by a few minutes.)

When pasta is cooked a little past al dente; (The definition of al dente is cooked firm to the bite. You want your pasta to be tender, but far from mushy.) drain and rinse in cold water.

Let’s put it all together. In large serving bowl; mix the pasta, grilled veggies, salami or pepperoni and remaining veggies. Stir in salad dressing, onion powder, Romano cheese and red pepper flakes, mixing well to incorporate. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours.

When it’s time to eat, fold in the cheese chunks and stir to mix up salad dressing, pasta and veggies. Serve immediately. Mangia!

Gluten Free – For my gluten free friends (myself included) use gluten free pasta. I like Barilla or Ronzoni brands.

Dairy Free – If you are dairy free, use vegan Parmesan cheese and omit the chunks of cheese.

Vegetarian – Skip the meat and add chick peas or toasted tofu, stirring in right before serving.

Low Carb – Skip the pasta, double the grilled veggies and add some delicious cooked quinoa.

#pastasalad #picnicrecipes #glutenfree #dairyfree #vegetarian #myfamilydinner #summersalads #yummy

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