Once mid-August comes, it’s safe to say that most Americans are sweating bullets. Hot temperatures, rising humidity, and smelly sewers are common gripes throughout the country. The weather in Northern California is insane. Seriously. For instance, last week we were enjoying beautiful 80-degree-weather. Now, we are stuck in the gross 100-degree-heat. So while I was baking up a storm weeks ago, I now have fled my kitchen. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been eating well.
After suffering through some more snack-like dinners (hello, Trader Joe’s Tandoori Naan bread with feta and hummus), I decided to start working on some salads. If you have ready any of my previous posts, you know that I love all Mediterranean food because it is full of flavor without being too heavy. I have always loved Tabouleh salad and a deli around the corner from my college serves an Orzo Pasta Salad I am dying to recreate. These cold salads are especially appetizing when you are sweating profusely and refuse to turn on the stove. A quick boil for the pasta and a fast homemade dressing go a long way.
After looking through my pantry, I decided to use some leftover pasta packages and roast the fresh vegetables I got at the farmers market. In the end, I made this deliciously easy and fresh pasta salad and took it with me to the beach over the weekend. Roasted eggplant, fresh tomatoes, and frozen green beans all come together with whatever pasta you have on hand. I used a mixture of bowtie and penne because I’m crazy and like all those different shapes. I know, ADD eating at its finest, right? To quicken the cooking time, I boiled the frozen green beans with the pasta. If you want to use a different vegetable, why not try frozen broccoli or peas? In regards to the broccoli, use smaller florets that way everything is bite-sized and the broccoli doesn’t overpower the rest of the dish. You can use fresh squash if you’d like. Don’t boil them though; that would be weird and pointless.
Anyways, I made a simple dressing of white wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, lightly salted and seasoned with pepper. After combining all the ingredients, I let the salad chill together overnight, and once the pasta and vegetables marinated together, I had one fine meal. While everyone at the beach was downing pizza and beer, I was eating a refreshing pasta salad that looked like it came from an overpriced deli. Paired with my iced tea, and gorgeous blue sky, and the sound of the crashing waves, I was in my own ocean heaven.
To kick this dish up a notch, upon serving, I spooned hummus and Trader- Joe’s cilantro and yogurt dip on top of the dish. The smooth yogurt and rough hummus added nice texture to the pasta salad. Of course, I grilled the Tandoori Naan bread and used it to scoop up the leftover veggies. Eating this salad, I felt like I was on the gorgeous beaches in Greece or in the south of France. One day soon, I will find myself there. Until then, I will settle for California’s beaches and this tasty pasta salad.
Mediteranean Pasta Salad
Yield: Makes 6 side dishes, 4 main courses
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes + 25 for roasting
● 1 1/2 lb. eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
● 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
● 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for roasting eggplant
● 3 tsp. salt
● 2 tsp. black pepper
● 1 12 ounce can diced tomato, no sodium added
● 1 12-ounce box pasta, (I used bowtie and penne)
● 7 ounces frozen green beans, (use any frozen vegetable you’d like)
● 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese, plus more for garnish
Roast eggplant: Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 425°F.
Toss eggplant with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper in a bowl, then spread in 2 oiled large shallow (1-inch-deep) baking pans. Roast, stirring occasionally and switching position of pans halfway through baking, until vegetables are golden brown and tender, 20 to 25 minutes total.
Make dressing and assemble salad: Whisk together vinegar, two teaspoons of salt, and one teaspoon pepper, and 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil in a small bowl. Set aside.
Cook pasta and frozen green beans in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain; rinse with cold water and drain again. Transfer pasta to large bowl. Add in can of tomatoes. Add one teaspoon of salt and one teaspoon of pepper; stir to combine. Toss in roasted eggplant. Pour dressing over and toss to coat. Finally, add crumbled feta. Serve.
Salad can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Return to room temperature before serving.