Before we left for summer, one of my colleagues turned down a delicious baked good because she claimed that she has a hard time keeping weight off in the summer. I was shocked. Summer is the only time I can maintain/lose weight. She said she has a hard time at cook-outs, which makes sense. Cook-outs can be delicious, but are often laden with a bunch of decadence. One of Ben’s friends recently had a birthday, so I offered to bring something to the party. I was assigned salad, so I decided to make a pasta salad. Because of the many food allergens in the world (gluten and nuts) and the vegetarian set, I came across a lovely pasta salad that I jazzed up a little. This, my friends, is a tasty gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free, vegetarian summer salad.
No, this salad is not an oxymoron. Those who know me know how much I love gluten and gluten-based products, so I was very skeptical about trying gluten-free pasta. The Safeway “Eating Right” brand of pasta was pretty darn good. It’s slightly more chewy than regular pasta, but you can’t really tell the difference. So, if you have a Safeway or a Safeway-related store near you, I’d recommend their gluten-free pasta. Regardless, this salad has protein, healthy fats, greens, and citrus. AND! It tastes good without being ridiculously fat-laden with my nemesis, mayonnaise. What more could you ask for in a barbecue food?
Pasta Salad with Spinach and Cilantro Pesto
18 oz. gluten-free pasta (I used penne)
1 bunch cilantro
4 cups spinach
1/4 cup onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 avocados, diced
3 tomatoes, seeded and chopped (or 2 cups of cherry tomatoes, halved)
1 can cannellini beans (or other white legumes like chickpeas)
splash of olive oil
Juice of 2 lemons (approximately 1/2 cup)
zest of 1.5 lemons (approximately 1.5 Tb)
1.5 Tb olive oil
2 Tb Dijon mustard
1 tsp cumin
salt and pepper to taste
reserved pasta water (as needed)
- Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add pasta and cook according to directions. Be diligent with the timing. Gluten-free pasta can go horribly wrong if you’re not paying attention.
- Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the cilantro, spinach and dash of olive oil. Pulse until the greens are finely chopped, but not totally paste-like. Pour into a large bowl.
- Fold in the onions, garlic, tomatoes, and white beans. Then toss with the noodles.
- In a small bowl (I used the bowl for the juicer), add the zest, lemon juice, mustard, cumin, salt and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil to combine. If the dressing seems to thick, add in some of the reserved pasta water. The dressing should be somewhat runny (not like a ranch or honey mustard dressing), more like a vinaigrette. Pour over the whole mixture and refrigerate for at least 10 minutes to allow the flavors to mingle.
If you want to make it less “-free”, some good additions would be feta, crab, chicken, or Italian sausage.