Minestrone veggies do double duty in pasta salad

The Whole Dish podcast: Follow a few rules for superior pasta salads

On a day usually devoted to barbecue, a bowl of hearty minestrone hit the spot.

Granted, it may have been the cool mountain air that piqued our appetites for hot, savory soup. But lest we forget, minestrone is a dish that celebrates summer, at least the version commonly known to Americans.

Zucchini, eggplant, corn, green beans, potatoes and tomatoes compose my quintessential minestrone, garnished with a dollop of homemade pesto. The lion’s share of ingredients will take a few more weeks to come on strong. But when they do, it’ll be time to simmer a few quarts of minestrone to fill the freezer. Reheated, it can be bulked up with pasta or cooked beans or both.

If it’s simply too hot for eating soup on the spot, the same roster of veggies can do double duty in this distinctive pasta salad. Evoking minestrone, the barely cooked preparation keeps flavors bright and textures toothsome. The cohesive ingredients make this pasta stand out among summer’s standbys.

And don’t hesitate to mix and match veggies based on what’s freshest, as with any good minestrone. Fava beans are a natural forerunner to green beans. Yellow crookneck or patty-pan squash can replace zucchini. Cauliflower, particularly the orange “cheddar” variety, would be my pick over carrots.

Remember that the most palate-pleasing pasta salads feature components that are all roughly the same size. So slice and dice veggies as precisely as possible. And resist the urge in this case to use larger pasta, like pedestrian rotini, penne or bowties.

Photo for The Washington Post by Stacy Zarin Goldberg

Minestrone Pasta Salad

Kosher salt, as needed

8 ounces dried ditalini pasta

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1/2 cup finely diced red onion

1 medium (4 ounces) zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

4 ounces green beans (ends trimmed), cut into 1/4-inch pieces

2 medium (4 ounces total) carrots, scrubbed well, then cut into generous 1/4-inch cubes (3/4 cup)

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar

1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/8 teaspoon sugar

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3/4 cup cooked, no-salt-added chickpeas (drained and rinsed if using canned)

3/4 cup cooked, no-salt-added Great Northern beans (drained and rinsed if using canned)

2 ounces sliced hard Italian salami, cut into generous 1/4-inch squares

3 tablespoons finely chopped, fresh basil, plus more for optional garnish

1 (6-ounce) tomato, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice, for garnish (optional)

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the ditalini and cook according to package directions. Use a slotted spoon/strainer to transfer pasta to a colander set in sink; rinse with cold water to cool immediately. Return pot of water to a boil.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium, nonstick saute pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes, stirring. Add the zucchini pieces and cook for 3 minutes; vegetable should still be firm. Remove from heat.

Prepare a bowl of water and ice.

Add the string bean pieces to pot of boiling water; cook for 3 minutes. Add the carrots and cook for 3 minutes — no longer. Immediately drain vegetables, then transfer them to ice-water bath. After 10 minutes, drain vegetables. Lay them out on paper towels or on a clean dish towel to dry.

In a large bowl, whisk remaining 5 tablespoons oil with the vinegars, oregano, mustard and sugar to form an emulsified dressing. Season lightly with salt and the pepper. Add the cooked pasta, zucchini-onion mix, carrots, green beans, chickpeas, Great Northern beans, salami and chopped basil; stir to incorporate.

Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Transfer to a serving bowl. If desired, garnish with the basil and diced tomato just before serving.

Makes 12 servings (makes about 8 1/2 cups).

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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