August 27, 2008

Jen's Italian Pasta Salad

We are having grilled brats tonight for the main part of our dinner. Since brats are summer food, I wanted some side dishes that also evoke feelings of summertime and outdoor grilling. You know, picnic-type food. I picked up some fresh corn on the cob, but I could not decide on second side dish. Then, my friend Claire reminded me that pasta salad goes well with brats. Eureka! Claire is a very smart girl! Just like that, dinner was planned.

Since I am sure you all can grill brats and fix corn on the cob, I am just going to include my recipe for pasta salad today. This is one of my husbands favorite things. Also, the people at his office are addicted to crack. Every time they have a potluck, my pasta salad is requested. It is very flattering...and we all know that flattery will get you everywhere. I made a big batch, so the husband can take some to work tomorrow.
Originally, this dish came together as one of my surprise concoctions. I had a friend that made a similar version, and I started tweaking it over time. It is simple, refreshing, and reminiscent of Italian antipasto. This is another recipe that I have never written down; so once again, I am glad to have this blog so I can document a family favorite!

Jen's Italian Pasta Salad

1 bag of cooked multi colored pasta spirals, drained
1 small OR 1/2 of large red onion
1 small can of black olive slices
3 tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 rib of celery, diced finely
1 tablespoon of dried parsley
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 bottle of Newman's Own Light Italian Salad Dressing
salt and pepper to taste
fresh grated Parmesean cheese to taste (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup of shredded mild cheddar OR colby jack cheese

You can also add:
fresh sliced mushrooms (optional)
2 green onions, white and green parts, diced finely (optional)
handful of frozen, thawed peas (optional)
fresh broccoli florets (optional)
fresh cauliflower florets (optional)

Cook and cool pasta. Combine pasta with all other ingredients and mix thoroghly. Let sit so flavors may combine for minimum 2 hours (overnight is better). Serve cool or at room temerature.

Jen's Notes:
This recipe can be easily doubled by using two bags of pasta, and two bottles of salad dressing. Any italian salad dressing you like will work, but I like Newman's Own the best. This recipe is pretty flexible, so you can really be creative and use whatever different ingredients you like. I have listed some optional additions that I have used in the past with good results.

You can also add cooked chicken, diced into cubes or strips, to this dish. When I was working, I would sometimes mix in leftover grilled chicken breast for a yummy lunch. With the addition of chicken this pasta salad turns into a well balanced, healthy, and substantial meal that kids and adults both seem to enjoy.

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