Thursday, August 27, 2015

Lemon & herb summer pasta salad

Lighten up a favorite summer side dish

This recipe came to me from Giada by way of my dear friend Fritz. Originally an orzo salad, I was forced to shake things up because I couldn't find orzo at my local store — and nobody has time to run all over creation searching for orzo. I nabbed a box of small shells as an orzo stand-in, and let me tell you: I may never go back. 

First of all, the flavor in this salad would be awesome no matter what. The herbs and dressing are a delight. And sure, itty bitty orzo can be great. But with bite-sized ingredients like chopped tomatoes and garbanzo beans, the small shells were not too big and not too small — they were just right. They sweetly cradled those beans and veggies. So go for orzo, another small pasta, or even quinoa — I'll be over here with my small shells. Other tweaks I made to the original recipe: To make this a main dish, I added chicken and spinach.

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4 cups chicken broth
2 cups small pasta, dry
1 15-oz. can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups red and yellow grape tomatoes, quartered 
3/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil 
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint 
1 package/small tub crumbled feta cheese (I used garlic & herb)
2 grilled chicken breasts, chopped (optional) 
2–3 handfuls baby spinach, chopped (optional)

1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon, juiced)
2 tsp honey
2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp pepper
1 cup olive oil

1. Bring chicken broth to a boil. Stir in pasta and cook about 7 minutes or until al dente. Drain the pasta and douse with cold water to stop the cooking and cool the pasta. Transfer to a large bowl.

2. Add the quartered tomatoes, drained/rinsed garbanzo beans, and chopped red onion to the pasta. Fold together. If desired, add chopped chicken. (Do not add the herbs/spinach/feta yet!)

3. Whisk together the vinaigrette ingredients until combined, then fold into the salad fixings to taste. I added just half of the dressing, but reserved the rest in case it needed more the next day.

4. Just before serving, fold in chopped basil and mint (this way it won't wilt). Add the feta (you could add the feta earlier, but be sure to wait until the pasta is thoroughly cooled — otherwise it'll melt the cheese!). If desired, add chopped spinach.

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A few quick notes: First, you probably don't have to cook the pasta in chicken broth — but boy, does it add a ton of flavor! So just do it. You may never go back to boiling pasta in water. Second, if you think you won't miss the mint, think again. I'd never cooked with mint before, but it definitely lent a lovely freshness to the salad. Don't skip it! Third, I really don't think you need all the dressing. But I'm not a fan of pasta salad drowning in oil — you do you!

I brought this salad to our picnic before The Labyrinth at Film on the Hill and it was a hit. Not unlike the creamy pasta salad I made a couple weekends ago, I also couldn't stop snitching bites of this one while I was mixing it up. That's the sign of something good, right? So thanks, Fritz! Thanks Giada! We've found another keeper.

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