No need to wait for tomatoes to peak when you have a fresh, tasty pasta salad that takes advantage of spring's strawberries. Perfect for any potluck, outdoor entertaining, or an easy weeknight meal, we couldn't be happier about this salad. Fresh cucumbers, gently nutty seared zucchini, a bit of basil, and a balsamic vinaigrette are all you need, but for a one-dish meal with higher protein, cooked chickpeas, edamame, or what have you will likely feel right at home in this bowl.
Fresh is best with this one, so aim to assemble the salad only an hour or so before you want to serve it. That said, leftovers can be kept for a day or two, but the strawberries will begin to break down the longer it sits. You should have no problem cutting the recipe in half if you're afraid you won't get through a full pound of pasta before the strawberries give up the ghost. (Do note that a thorough toss with your favorite creamed herb tofu spread gives leftovers a whole new life.)
And, of course, feel free to keep this recipe on hand well into the summer, because substituting tomatoes for the strawberries once they do peak doesn't sound like a bad idea at all.
Strawberry Pasta Salad
serves 8-12 (low end as a main, high end as a side)
1 medium zucchini (about 8 oz), sliced into 6 long planks
1 medium cucumber (about 10 oz)
1 lb strawberries
8 medium basil leaves (substitute half lime basil, if available)
1 lb small dried pasta of choice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 TBSP balsamic vinegar, the best you can afford [see Note]
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt
freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
Heat a countertop electric grill or ridged griddle. Cook the zucchini until striped and tender, but still firm, just a few minutes, checking occasionally to avoid overcooking. Remove from heat and set aside.
Meanwhile, seed the cucumber and slice it thinly into a serving bowl. Trim the strawberries and slice them thickly, 3-4 slices per berry for medium-large berries. Add them to the cucumbers. Slice the basil into very thin ribbons and add the chiffonade to the serving bowl. When the zucchini is cool, slice each plank lengthwise into thirds, then into 1-inch strips. Add to the serving bowl.
Heat a pot of water with a generous sprinkle of salt, and cook the pasta according to the package directions. While it cooks, whisk together the oil, vinegar, and 1/2 tsp salt.
When the pasta is ready, drain thoroughly, allow to cool for just a minute, and add to the serving bowl. Pour the dressing over, toss thoroughly to combine, and add freshly cracked black pepper and additional salt, to taste. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
[Note: if you want to use a balsamic vinegar you're not confident about, pour a little more than called for into a small saucepan and simmer until it reduces a bit and gets a little syrupy. You're now sitting pretty.]