Even though I didn’t end up auditioning for American Idol, I did take the day off work Monday. I had a really nice day of shopping with my sister, who leaves for a monthlong archaeological study trip in Peru on Friday. She had a couple of things to still buy for her trip, so we went thrift store shopping to get her some clothes that she wouldn’t mind getting dirty!
By the time I was headed home, it was after 5 and hot. My husband hadn’t really thought about dinner (just like a man) and I was in no mood to slave over a hot stove. So I decided to run to Henry’s and pick up the fixings for a quick pasta salad.
I never have been a fan of pasta salads – they’re usually slathered in mayonnaise (and it’s only over the last six or seven years that I even eat tuna salad with a little mayonnaise) and devoid of flavor, texture, and color. The classic American pasta salad is a yellow-tinged white mess with little bits of pickle… And the very thought is making me want to hurl as I type.
But if you get a nice, fresh, veggie-filled salad with a light oil-based dressing, pasta salad takes on a whole new life. It’s cool and crisp, just perfect for a summer dinner. My friend Katie made an excellent pasta salad a few weeks back, full of veggies and chicken, that used Italian dressing and was delectable. So I knew it could be done.
With Katie as inspiration, I walked through Henry’s, picking up any veggie that we enjoyed eating raw. Yellow sweet peppers went in the cart, as well as organic tomatoes (the “regular” ones just didn’t smell right) and cucumbers and green beans. In went carrots (although I thought better of it later on; I think they’d have overtaken the pesto sauce) and jicama. I grabbed a bunch of shrimp at the meat counter (which, by the way, were some of the best shrimp we’d ever had) and then contemplated dressing. It didn’t take long to decide on getting a couple of bunches of giant basil leaves; pesto would be the perfect compliment. Rounding out the meal with a package of bowtie pasta, I was ready to assemble at home.
I did end up using the stove a couple of times – to boil the pasta, of course, and to melt some onions. I used the same skillet to cook up the shrimp with a little garlic, and while everything cooled, I cut up all the other veggies (half a cucumber, half a small jicama, a whole pepper, three small tomatoes, and a bunch of green beans) in bite-sized pieces. The basil went into the food processor with a generous handful of grated cheese and some olive oil (neither of us is a particular fan of the flavor of pine nuts in our pesto, so we leave them out).
Then it was just a question of finding a bowl big enough for everything – and I had to grab a large mixing bowl from the cupboard to do it! – and dumping it all in and mixing. We ended up only making shrimp enough for that evening, so we waited until the salad was on our plates before mixing it in. The result was extremely flavorful and visually stunning – and a meal that was both healthy and very satisfying. Of course, you can use store-bought pesto and pre-cooked shrimp (or rotisserie chicken or canned tuna, which worked really well mixed into the leftovers) and any shape pasta and any veggies that you like. But this summer we’ll definitely be having quite a few more pasta salads like this!
Mmmm… I’m so hungry!