Pull out those grill pans. Head to the barbecue. We are about to do some grilling today. Grilling is life in the summertime. It means you get to cook outdoors. It keeps you from turning on the oven and heating up the house. And most importantly, it creates amazing flavors. The high heat of grilling works much like roasting to bring out the natural sweetness in vegetables. It can take a mediocre dish and make it dinner party-worthy.
For this Italian pasta salad, we will use zucchini, onion, and cauliflower as our veggies of choice, but if you have other veg on hand, feel free to throw them in too! Any grilled veggie is a good veggie.
Our grilled vegetables are combined with pasta and chickpeas for heartiness and flavor. Then the whole shebang is drizzled in the most delicious homemade balsamic dressing.
Let’s talk more about this dressing. It is zippy from the balsamic vinegar and brightened up by lemon juice. We will throw in a good helping of Italian herbs for flavor and finish it off with some high quality olive oil. I always make an extra batch of this liquid gold. It is great on just about any salad and makes a great dipping sauce for bread.
The real secret to this dish? Make it a day before you want to serve it and let it rest in the fridge. While it sits overnight the flavors mingle together. The pasta and chickpeas soak in that glorious dressing and the flavors become even stronger and more pronounced. Once you are ready to serve, simply remove it from the fridge and take it straight to the table. No fuss, no muss.
Since this dish stores so well in the fridge, it makes great lunch leftovers. It packs well and will hold up in the fridge for a few days. Gourmet lunch, here we come.
Here are some tips for a perfect pasta salad:
Tip#1: Give it a good rinse.
Once the pasta is finished cooking. It will be HOT. After you drain it, rinse it well with cold running water to cool it down. If you skip this step, the pasta will continue to cook and begin to break down while you complete the other steps in the recipe. Cooling it down buys you time and allows the pasta to sit at room temperature without getting overcooked and mushy.
Tip#2 Don’t be shy.
When you are grilling the vegetables, don’t be afraid of those grill marks. Grill marks mean flavor. Get the vegetables on the grill and leave them alone for several minutes. Make sure they get good grill marks before you turn them over. Repeat on all sides of the vegetables. The zucchini will have the quickest cooking time, the the onions, and the cauliflower will need to be on the grill the longest.
Tip#3 Don’t sweat it.
If you are not the proud owner of a barbecue grill, don’t worry. I’m not either. Invest in a good cast iron grill pan and you can cook grill your vegetables on the stove top.
Ingredients for a delicious Italian pasta salad:
Ingredients For the vinaigrette:
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 8 oz. fusilli or penne pasta (gluten-free if needed)
- 3 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise
- 1 onion, cut into wedges
- 1 small head cauliflower, cut into large florets
- 1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
- 1/2 cup roughly chopped parsley
Directions to prepare step by step a summer pasta salad:
- Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients. Set aside.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a big pinch of salt and the pasta. Stir and cook until al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water to cool down the pasta. Return to the pot, or another bowl and add in the dressing.
- Add in the garbanzo beans, and set aside.
- Using a grill pan or a barbeque grill, grill the vegetables. Cut them into bite sized pieces.
- Add the grilled veggies into the pasta and stir to combine.
- Stir in the parsley.
- Serve. Top with extra parsley and pine nuts if desired.