A bowl of Mediterranean Pasta Salad

The holiday season means work parties, potlucks, and family gatherings filled with an abundance of baked goods and high-calorie treats.  If you’re looking for a new recipe to become your go-to option for any occasion, this pasta salad is it.  Not only is this a dish you can throw together in no time and easily make for the masses, it’s also a great healthier option that doesn’t compromise on fresh, delicious flavor, and it’s so tasty that you’ll probably have your friends and family begging you for the recipe!

This week’s dish:  Mediterranean Pasta Salad with Homemade Pesto

Why we like it:

Pasta salad is a classic potluck dish, but this one has got a refreshing Mediterranean twist that will have everyone going back for seconds.  Twisty fusilli pasta is topped with the fresh flavors of sweet red pepper, black olives, red onion, cherry tomatoes, and feta cheese, and mixed with a light vinaigrette dressing and homemade green pesto to create a mouthwatering combination of flavors.  As an added benefit, this dish is high in fiber and packed with protein and vitamin C.

A batch of homemade pesto is so easy to whip up, and making it yourself gives you the freedom to add more garlic or parmesan depending on your preference, but if you’re in a hurry and don’t have time, you can substitute premade pesto from a jar.

For the pesto:

1/3 cup pine nuts

1 large bunch of basil

1/3 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated (approx. 1/8th lb.)

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 large clove of garlic

sea salt

Put the pine nuts in a pan over low heat and toast until they are golden in color, occasionally shaking the nuts to move them around the pan.

Roasted pine nuts

While the nuts are toasting, peel and cut the ends off your garlic clove, and pluck any thick stems off the basil leaves.

Preparing the basil leaves

Now grate your Parmesan cheese.

Grating parmesan cheese

When the pine nuts are golden and toasted, remove them from the heat.  Now combine your basil and garlic in a food processor and pulse until they are relatively blended.

Blending the pesto in a food processor

Add your pine nuts, grated Parmesan cheese, and half the olive oil and continue to pulse.

Adding pine nuts and parmesan

The pesto should start becoming more creamy and smooth.  Depending on the size and of the basil bunch used you may need a little more or less than the full amount of olive oil, so add more accordingly.  The pesto shouldn’t be too thick or too runny.  Season it with a touch of sea salt.

You won’t need the full amount of pesto for the pasta salad, so the rest can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks (add a little extra olive, just enough to cover the pesto).

Pesto in olive oil

For the pasta salad:
6 cups cooked whole wheat or brown rice fusilli
3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tsp white vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ red onion, diced
½ cup pitted black olives, sliced thin
1 sweet red pepper, cut into ½ inch chunks
¼ cup of homemade pesto
½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 bunch of parsley, chopped fine
6-8 cherry tomatoes, cut into halves
Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta as you prepare the rest of your ingredients.
Start by dicing your red onion into very fine pieces.

Diced red onion

Thinly slice the black olives and chop the sweet red pepper into ½ inch chunks.

Slicing the olives and red peppers

In a bowl, combine the crushed garlic, vinegar, and slowly whisk in the olive oil until the vinaigrette is smooth and mixed well. Add the onions, olives, and red pepper and mix until the ingredients are coated in the dressing.

Combining onions, peppers, and olives

Set the vinaigrette mixture aside and add your dried pasta to the boiling water.  For 6 cups of cooked pasta you will need approximately 3 cups of dried pasta (although the amount varies depending on pasta shape and size).  Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package, but make sure it is not overcooked.

Measuring the dried pasta

While the pasta cooks, finely chop your parsley.

Chopping the parsley

Once your pasta is cooked, drain and rinse it well.  While it is still hot, combine it with the vinaigrette mixture, pesto, and chopped parsley, and crumble in the feta.

Adding crumbled feta

Stir everything well, so all the ingredients are fully mixed together.

Stirring all of the pasta salad ingredients together

The pasta salad is delicious served warm, but can also be chilled in the fridge if you’d like to serve it cold.  Top with cut cherry tomatoes for an extra splash of color and flavor, season with a little salt and pepper, and get ready for all the compliments you’re about to receive for this delectable dish

Delicious Mediterranean pasta salad