I’m always on the lookout for a crowd-pleaser. One of those dishes that can be prepared in advance. One that is delicious at room temperature. One that can be enjoyed by the vegetarians in the group. This one fits the bill.
Usually, when you hear the term ‘grilled’ …you think of warm weather. In my household, that term is used year-round. If it’s raining, we may put off grilling those burgers until tomorrow. But, then again, there’s always a big umbrella, right? After a snow storm, we make sure we shovel a path to the gas grill right after that driveway is clear. That being said …this salad can and should be enjoyed any time of the year. It’s worth the effort of shoveling that path.
I came up with this concoction several years ago. It was an instant hit. I use the term ‘concoction’ instead of ‘recipe’ because you can change it up, depending on the availability of produce and your family’s preferences. The recipe I’ll include here will simply be a guideline for you to follow. You may want to add more zucchini or less olives. Perhaps you prefer asiago to fontinella. Feel free to add yellow squash to the mix. You could switch out the arugula with some baby spinach. If it is appealing to you, add some bits of prosciutto. So many possibilities…
When choosing and preparing your veggies, keep in mind that you need substantial chunks that will hold up in the salad. Try to find asparagus that’s on the thick side. When prepping the zucchini, slice it vertically right down the middle. For the portabellas, I find it easier to grill the large version. There’s no reason you can’t grill the baby bellas …you’ll just need to be more cautious not to lose any of those little guys to the grill. I like to grill directly on the grate. If you prefer to use a grill basket, then you’ll have no worries of losing small pieces. Hmmm …maybe I should consider getting one of those.
Load up your prepped veggies on a large rimmed baking sheet. Coat them on all sides with olive oil. Season with coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Be sure not to overcook …look for a nice char on the outside while retaining some ‘bite.’ It’s difficult to predict how much time is required to grill each variety. They will be finished in a matter of minutes so it’s best to hang close to the grill during the process.
Before combining all ingredients, coat the freshly cooked pasta (while still warm) with some of the dressing. It allows the pasta to absorb maximum flavor.
Speaking of dressing …there’s no secret recipe here. This is actually one of my favorite shortcuts. We love the flavor of Good Seasons Italian Dressing mix in my household. Follow the directions on the packet, but upgrade it to the next level. Be sure to use good quality extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Splurge on that aged balsamic vinegar. The one shown here is “L’Acetaia” Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from A Taste of Olive …my absolute favorite of all of their vinegars. The flavor is superior and a little bit goes a long way.
Although this can be prepared the morning of your gathering (or the night before), hold off on adding the arugula until just before serving. If added too soon, it tends to wilt from the weight of the dressing.
For an impressive presentation, garnish the salad with a generous amount of freshly grated parmesan cheese. Include a bowl of grated cheese on the side …welcoming a sprinkling of cheese for individual servings. Your friends will thank you.
grilled veggie pasta salad
- 1/4 cup good quality balsamic vinegar
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1 packet Good Seasons Italian Dressing Mix
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 pounds asparagus, tough ends trimmed
- 1 large or 2 small red pepper, cut in large strips
- 2 small zucchini, halved lengthwise
- 1 large spanish onion, cut in 1/2" slices
- 4 large portabella mushrooms, stemmed
- olive oil
- coarse kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound cavatappi pasta
- 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
- 8 ounces kalamata olives, pitted and halved
- 8 ounces fontinella cheese, cut in bite-size strips
- 5 ounces baby arugula
- 2 ounces parmesan reggiano, freshly grated
Prepare the dressing using the Good Seasons cruet or a jar with a tight fitting lid. Mix the balsamic vinegar and water in cruet or jar. Add contents of dressing mix packet and shake vigorously until well blended. Add extra virgin olive oil. Shake again until well blended. Set aside.
Preheat gas grill to medium heat.
Rinse and dry the asparagus, pepper, zucchini and onion before preparing. For the large portabella mushrooms, wipe off excess dirt with a dampened paper towel. Use a spoon to gently scrape out all of the gills from the underside of the mushroom cap and discard. Spread the prepped veggies on a large rimmed baking sheet. Using a basting brush, coat all sides with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
In batches, place the vegetables on the grill in a single layer. Once charring is noted, flip over to grill other side. The second side will require less time to achieve a good char. The exact timing will fluctuate with each variety. When ready, remove from grill and spread out on a clean pan to cool.
Fill a large pot with 4 to 6 quarts of water. Add about a tablespoon of salt to the water. Bring to a boil; add pasta with a stir and return to a boil. Stir occasionally while cooking. Follow package directions to cook to 'al dente' or firm to the bite. Drain pasta and return it to the pot or large mixing bowl. Before the pasta cools, pour about half of the dressing over and mix well to incorporate. Set aside to cool.
Cut the cooled grilled vegetables to bite-sized pieces. When the pasta has cooled, add the prepared vegetables along with the tomatoes, olives and cheese. Add the remaining dressing and mix well.
Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour, up to 24 hours. Just prior to serving, add baby arugula and mix well. Top with freshly grated parmesan. Offer additional grated cheese for individual servings.