April 13, 2010

Salad Tweaking (Pasta Salad Primavera)

If you have check out my Reviews blog, Much Ado About Diet, you'll see the test recipe for Dilled Pasta Salad with Spring Vegetables from the newly released Mayo Clinic Diet & Journal. As noted, we like all of the ingredients, and so we enjoyed the salad, but we also identified some issues for this recipe in terms of its end result on the plate, as well as the overall health scorecard. So I decided to give it a little salad makeover.

Right away, we were surprised by the amount of oil in the original dressing recipe. 1/4 cup seemed rather high for the amount of salad to be dressed and, in fact, it delivered an uncomfortably oily result. In the revised recipe below, we cut the amount of fat in half, using only two tablespoons of olive oil. That took care of the excessive greasiness, and still easily provided enough dressing to adequately season the salad.

The second thing we noted was that the use of both asparagus and green bell pepper gave an overall bitter quality to the entire salad, not to mention contributing to a rather monotone appearance. The few cherry tomatoes did break up the green and white pasta-scape, but left me thinking that the whole dish could benefit from more colour, and more natural vegetable sweetness. I switched out the green pepper for orange and red bell peppers, which are much sweeter and do not have that unripe bitter quality of the green.

I also felt that the amount of pasta could really support a much greater quantity of vegetable matter, allowing for larger portions that really only increased the fresh vegetable intake of any serving. More vegetables is generally considered an improvement, health-wise, so I increased all of the feature vegetables: 2 more asparagus stalks, an extra half bell pepper, extra tomatoes (the exact number is going to depend on the size of tomato you choose).

Finally, I thought the amount of fresh herb could use a boost, so I roughly doubled the chopped herbs. In the second iteration, I used tarragon instead of dill, but that was simply because I had it handy, and it plays well with the same vegetables.

I think the final salad was more visually appealing (the change of noodle was strictly due to availability at the time) with lots of colours and a nice balance between the astringent asparagus, the sweet peppers, and the acidity of the tomatoes. The flavours were bright, the pasta tasted seasoned, but not greasy, and this recipe has earned a place in my spring and summer repertoire. It's versatile, vegan, stores well in the fridge for a day or two, and is about perfect for potlucks or picnics.

Pasta Salad Primavera
adapted from The Mayo Clinic Diet & Journal
Serves 4

3 cups uncooked short pasta, such as rotini
10 asparagus stalks
1 orange bell pepper
1/2 red bell pepper
2 green onions
10 - 12 cocktail tomatoes

2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 Tablespoons rice vinegar (or white balsamic vinegar)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
large pinch kosher salt
black pepper to taste
1/2 cup fresh green herbs of your choice (e.g. tarragon, dill, basil, or parsley)

Trim the asparagus and slice into approximately two-centimeter chunks. Dice the peppers into medium-small dice. FInely slice the green onions. Cut the tomatoes as needed - quarters for strawberry tomatoes, halves for cherry tomatoes, and whole for grape.

Stir the dressing together while the pasta boils.

Drop the pasta into boiling, lightly salted water and cook until just tender. For the last two minutes of cooking time, add the asparagus to the pot of boiling pasta. When finished, drain and plunge the pasta and asparagus into ice water to stop the cooking process and cool it down. Rinse with fresh, cold water until all the pasta is cool to the touch. Drain well, shaking to get rid of any excess water.

In a large serving bowl, combine the chopped raw vegetables and dressing. Add the well-drained pasta and asparagus and toss so that the dressing gets evenly distributed. Serve right away, or chill until needed.

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