It’s hot here in DC, hotter than I think it’s supposed to be just yet. It’s also raining like the tropics almost daily so I’m not quite sure what’s going on with the weather this year. But I do know one thing. Humidity is already a constant. I find myself craving icy beverages (read rosé) and cool salads loaded with veggies or fruit. Salads are never boring to me. At least, they never have to be. You can experiment to your heart’s content. You can clean out your fridge to keep your overly ambitious trip to the market from going in vain and end up with bright new recipes to keep in your repertoire.
This salad is no ordinary pasta salad. It’s chocked full of asparagus, spring peas, and zucchini, with a briny hit of feta for a great Mediterranean flair. I used a spiralizer for the zucchini to make zoodles. It adds a little whimsy to the dish which I’m always a sucker for but you can of course do zucchini ribbons or thin slices, whatever works for you. I also used a whole wheat penne in this recipe which adds to the nutritional value. I find I eat much less pasta with this dish and still remain full compared with a white flour pasta. The high fiber content is the secret here which helps you stay full and satisfied, a great advantage with whole grain pastas.
Warm Weather Pasta Salad
14 oz whole wheat penne pasta
1 bunch of asparagus *not the big fat spears, just the everyday modest ones (20-22 spears), woody stems removed and remaining stalks cut in half (resulting in 40-44 pieces)
1 large zucchini zoodled with a spiralizer or julienned or ribboned with a vegetable peeler
¾ cup fresh peas (you can use the frozen variety if you have a hard time finding fresh shelled peas)
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts (toasting instructions included below)
5 oz crumbled feta (not an exact science here, throw in what you like)
2 tbsp chopped parsley
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (use the good stuff for salads- I find fruity olive oils like Arbequina work well)
2 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tsp dried basil
1/8 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp red chili pepper flakes
1 tsp salt (2 tsp if using kosher salt)
1 pinch of sugar
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Toast the pine nuts in a sauté pan over medium heat for 2 minutes, tossing once. You don’t need them to brown. You just want to get some of the natural oils going. Pour the pine nuts into a small bowl and set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile make the zucchini zoodles with your spiralizer (or ribbons with a vegetable peeler). I like to give the zucchini zoodles a rough chop to make things easier down the line. Have you ever tried to eat spaghetti or zucchini noodles and penne all together? Let me just say, it’s trickier than you think. Giving the zoodles a rough chop makes the end result easier but it still maintains a great curly look to the vegetable. Set aside. Cook the penne pasta according to package instructions until al dente (9-12 minutes depending on the variety). Do NOT overcook. You need the pasta al dente so it has the capacity to absorb some of the dressing. While the pasta is boiling, use a small bowl to prepare the salad dressing (use a whisk to mix the liquid ingredients first and then add in the garlic and spices. Whisk again and voilà). Set the dressing aside. When al dente, drain the pasta in a colander and add it to a large mixing bowl. Pour 2/3 of the salad dressing over the pasta and mix well. Let it sit and absorb all that great flavor!
Fill the pot again with water and bring to a boil though you only need to fill it half way for the veggies. The pot and stove will be quite hot so it will come to a boil very quickly this time. Meanwhile, prepare an ice water bath in a medium to large bowl (cold water plus a good number of ice cubes) to shock the veggies and set it aside. This will ensure the vegetables stop cooking exactly when you want them to and is also the trick for maintaining a bright color after blanching. Once the water comes to a boil, add the asparagus and peas. After 2 minutes add the zucchini zoodles and boil for an additional minute. Drain the veggies in the colander and immediately dump them all in the ice water bath. Let them sit in the water bath for 1 minute. The ice will melt completely and you can drain the veggies again in the colander. Add the drained veggies to the pasta. Crumble the feta and sprinkle on top. Add in the chopped parsley and pine nuts. Pour the remaining 1/3 dressing over everything and give the salad a nice mix. Do this with a light hand so you don’t smash the feta. Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. I find the feta and salt in the dressing is usually salty enough for me but you may want to add a little salt and pepper depending on your taste buds. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit 5 hours or overnight in the fridge. This is a great make ahead recipe for a picnic or gathering the following day. The pasta will keep for up to four days though I like to finish it by day three as the veggies start to lose some of their brightness.
I’m not going to pretend this recipe doesn’t have a number of steps or is a one bowl kind of prep (obviously) BUT all of the steps are super easy, take very little time, and the reward is fantastic.
Invite a few people over, open a nice bottle of rosé and put this salad on the patio table to enjoy a relaxed and simple summer meal.