With BBQs on the horizon we are working on perfecting our go-to summer pasta salad for potlucks, picnic and patio dinners. Pasta salads are easy, can be made with many ingredients you already have in your kitchen and can be made in advance (in fact they are often better made in advance so that the flavors can develop).
The timing was perfect then when we were asked to participate in the California Walnuts Virtual Salad Party.’ When asked to choose a recipe to try out we were drawn to Mollie Katzen’s Spring Pasta Salad with Cilantro-Walnut Pesto. It looked easy (our favorite word in the kitchen!), simple and of course, tasty.
We took a little liberty with the recipe (see the original here) by substituting some of the vegetables our for our seasonal favorites, utilized what we already had on hand and incorporated a new ingredient that added bonus flavor.
After inventorying the kitchen for ingredients we headed over to the Yakima Fruit Market in Bothell for produce. The original recipe called for snow peas and red pepper but we wanted to see what was fresh and in season in the market. We considered asparagus (as the ones at the market were advertised as the “last of the season”) but moved on when we saw the abundance of zucchini across the aisle. Armed with zucchini, a yellow pepper and a lemon (our bonus ingredient) we headed back to make the salad.
Pesto is fairly easy once you get the basic recipe down and the ingredients can be interchanged (spinach or cilantro for basil or walnuts and almonds in place of pine nuts). Some changes that we made the original recipe included toasting the walnuts in a pan over low heat before adding them to the blender (to bring out their flavor a bit) and adding the juice of one lemon to the salad. The addition of the lemon really added to the flavor of the pesto.
Once we got started on the Spring Pasta Salad recipe we were in and out of the kitchen in less than 30 minutes.
In the end we came out with a quick and healthy lunch with balanced flavor, a brightness from the lemon we added and crunch from the walnuts and vegetables. Try the recipe for yourself below and let us know what you think!
Spring Pasta Salad
- 8 ounces pasta (use any you like – we used mini farfalle)
- 1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup Cilantro-Walnut Pesto
- 1 cup walnut halves, toasted
- 2 cloves minced or crushed garlic
- 1 cup firmly packed cilantro (leaves and smaller stems)
- couple pinches of salt
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small hello bell pepper, diced
- 1 small zucchini, diced
- 4 to 6 ounces fresh mozzarella, diced – NOTE: we used shredded mozzarella because it’s what we had in the refrigerator.
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 roma tomato, chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
Boil pasta according to the direction on the box. Drain, rinse with cold water and set aside. In a blender or food processor combine all the cilantro-walnut pesto ingredients and blend until you get a omewhat smooth paste (some chunks are good!). Combine pasta and pesto in a large bowl and stir. Add vegetables (except tomatoes), cheese and lemon juice, stir to combine.
The salad can be served at this point or put in the refrigerator for later. The longer it sits in the pesto and other ingredients the better it will taste. When ready to serve garnish with tomatoes, walnuts and cheese.