“I need fast” one will say. “Flavor is what is important” says another. “Appetizing look!” “Alas, I don’t know how to cook.” And the ever popular ‘I don’t like ____________ (fill in the blank).” Well you get the picture. Everyone has a perception of what it means to make a “good” meal.
Personally I did not learn to cook until I was an adult. The way my mother (an excellent cook) prepared food was incomprehensible to me. What is a handful or a dash? Cook until done means what exactly? Enter Martha Stewart. Think what you will of her, she provided a framework for cooking that was understandable. It reminded me of chemistry class where everything was precise and the chemical reactions made sense.
Fast forward a few years and now I understand how my mother cooks. Precision is great when you start cooking but variety in taste comes when you become open to experimenting. Don’t believe me? Google a favorite dish and see how many distinct recipes you can find.
So in honor of summer, I am writing about a favorite meal. One that can be changed up in numerous different ways and adapted to meet the need for both fast and flavorful.
Pasta Salad 2.0
Basic recipe-remember if you don’t like an ingredient, substitutions will be suggested below.
1 package of Barilla Ready Pasta – any style
22 oz (2 packages) of frozen California mix vegetables microwave in the bag
2 Tablespoons of Italian dressing
Cook the Barilla as directed on the package. Put ¼ of the bag on each plate. Cook the vegetables as directed, divide into four servings and mix with the pasta on the plates. Add ½ Tablespoon of dressing to each serving. Putting this directly on the plate saves a mixing bowl and will help cool the vegetables and pasta quicker.
For a side dish, while cooking the vegetables wash some fresh berries and serve with plain yogurt. Or to skip the sides, make this dish into 2 servings rather than 4.
It depends on your microwave, but I made this version in 10 minutes start to finish.
Don’t care for this warm, or want to use it for a lunch? Cook earlier in the day. Put the dressing in the bottom of a bowl or Mason jar, then layer the firm vegetables, pasta then soft vegetables like tomatoes (a listed option below) and put in the refrigerator. Stir before serving.
Now for some variations
With no Italian dressing on hand, I used a tablespoon of olive oil and a ½ tablespoon of vinegar. Different vinegar types will work, just remember the stronger the vinegar the less you need. The nice thing about Italian dressing is the spices are already included so there are no extra ingredients. Don’t care for Italian? Check the chart at the end for alternatives.
Vegetables make this dish for me so adding more is always an option. Here I used tomatoes, bell pepper and black olives.
Special tools can help save some time and dishwashing but are not necessary.
I find a corer faster to remove stems from tomatoes and peppers and even the pepper seeds. Food processors quickly chop food, but increase clean-up time. Cutting with a knife is sometimes a bit precarious for me so I invested in a chopper-the manual kind-to quickly coarse-chop items such as olives and bell peppers.
In the bowl they go.
Now for added flavor. There is always salt and pepper to taste. Dried herbs are easy to keep around and adding Italian seasoning can work wonders. But you can really kick up the favor with fresh herbs. Yes they can be expensive, but ask around and see if you can find someone who is growing some. Better yet, consider growing some yourself! You can grow a variety all in one planter.
Here we have fresh basil, parsley and oregano as well as dried herb options.
After washing the fresh herbs, here are two quick methods of cutting.
Roll the leaves up into a tight roll and
Chop with a knife-Note the poor hand placement
Or cut with scissors-safer
The leaves may turn brown in the cutting process. Just leave this for the last step so the leaves stay green until consumed.
And there you have it! Total time: 18 min.
But what about those things that you don’t like to eat or don’t have on hand?
Here are some helpful additions or substitutions you can use. You may want to increase or decrease the seasonings to your taste. Play with the pasta shapes and ingredients.
For cost savings buy dried pasta and cook yourself. Look for in season and on sale vegetables. Potted vegetable plants require little work and can yield lovely low cost fresh produce.
Now be adventurous and enjoy!
Tomatoes- Cherry tomatoes may be easier to cut
Different colored bell peppers
Black or green olives
Basil 3-4 leaves fresh or ¼ teaspoon dry
Oregano ½ teaspoon of fresh or dried
Parsley 2 Tablespoons fresh or ½ dried
Dried Italian seasoning mix 1 teaspoon
Italian dressing dry mix
Italian Dressing 2 Tablespoons
Olive oil 1 Tablespoon with Vinegar ½ Tablespoon
Mayonnaise 1-2 Tablespoons
Another type of dressing such as Panera Poppyseed which is sweeter and less tangy