A great pasta salad is a beautiful thing. It anchors a picnic, potluck or buffet with aplomb. It’s portable, flexible, and easily and often vegetarian.
One of the first things I made for my then-boyfriend’s (now husband’s) parents was a pasta salad, and for whatever reason, it won them over and became a most-requested dish.
Pasta salads are also such a nice way to play around with seasonal vegetables, so you can change things up all year. Spring and summer are peak moments to scoop up the great produce at the farmers’ market, grab a box of pasta, and quickly turn all of it into a crowd-pleasing and easy side or main dish. I tend to pack in the vegetables, and the results are beautiful and nicely tilted toward the healthy side.
In this recipe, the asparagus and sugar snap peas get a bit more tender and keep their bright green color after a quick simmer, and the best part is that you can add them right into the pasta at the end of the cooking time; that saves a step and an extra pot.
If you chop the leafy greens, they will blend into the salad more, but sometimes I like to leave them whole and have the whole thing be kind of a cross between a pasta salad and a regular salad.
You can make this salad ahead of time, up to one day. Ideally, leave the arugula, spinach and basil out and add them right before serving. Adding the greens at the last minute keeps them from getting wilted and darkening. Also, hold off on the tomatoes: Tomatoes really should never see the inside of a refrigerator, and since you’ll have to refrigerate this salad to keep it fresh, tossing in the tomatoes at the very end will keep them from getting slightly mealy.
If you have made the salad ahead, let it sit at room temperature for at least 20 minutes to take the chill off before serving, so the flavors all come shining through. Also, if you refrigerated the salad, the pasta will have absorbed the dressing a bit; add an extra drizzle of olive oil, and give it a toss to get it nice and glistening again.
SIMPLE VEGETARIAN SPRING PASTA SALAD
25 minutes start to finish
1 pound dried spiral pasta (or cavatappi, ziti, fusilli or other salad-friendly shaped pasta)
2 cups (8 ounces) halved sugar snap peas
2 cups (1-inch pieces) asparagus
2 cups baby or roughly chopped arugula
2 cups baby or roughly chopped spinach
1 bell pepper (red, yellow, or orange), finely diced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half, or quarters if larger
1/2 cup sliced scallions
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup chopped shallots
1/2 cup slivered fresh basil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
Heat a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions, but 1 minute before the pasta is tender, add the sugar snap peas and the asparagus. Cook for 1 minute, then drain the pasta and the vegetables and rinse under cold water. Drain well.
Place the pasta, sugar snap peas and asparagus in a bowl with the arugula, spinach, peppers, tomatoes and scallions.
In a small bowl or container, combine the olive oil, mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, shallots, basil, salt and pepper. Pour this dressing over the pasta salad and toss well to combine. Add the Parmesan and toss again. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed.