Strawberry Pesto Pasta Salad
This recipe came from Genevieve, an English teacher at Lancaster Country Day School. Another teacher told Genevieve she simply must share this recipe for the Summer Salad Challenge conducted by The Lancaster Sunday News and me. The recipe came from Genevieve’s sister and, conceptually, it caught my attention right away. Beyond offering a novel, seasonal twist on traditional pesto, this recipe is a wholesome all-in-one meal. Boasting whole grain pasta, fruit, veggies, nuts and beans, this salad packs a nutritional punch in a uniquely flavorful way. The optional add-ins allow for further tailoring to one’s taste. I particularly enjoyed a hearty sprinkling of feta, and if you haven’t previously paired avocado with strawberries, you are in for a treat!
In addition to preparing this salad with the designated pasta, I made a second batch using quinoa for a gluten-free alternative. If you would like to try that option, simmer one cup of rinsed quinoa in 1 1/4 cups of water until the water is just absorbed and the quinoa is tender yet still possesses a little “bite”, about 11 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the quinoa sit, covered, for five more minute before fluffing with a fork. As there was no pasta water to thin the pesto in this variation, I stirred in a little of the briny water from my feta container. This proved to be a delightful flavor enhancer, although plain water would do the trick as well. Then simply taste for seasoning and add a little extra salt, if needed.
When strawberry season had passed, consider making this recipe with your favorite traditional pesto (my favorite recipe may be seen by clicking here). Also, adding a different seasonal fruit–perhaps raspberries or peaches–would be delicious, as would using dried cranberries in place of the strawberries for a year-round alternative.
Unlike many pestos, this novel recipe does not rely on olive oil for thinning. You may wish to reserve a small amount of the pasta cooking water to thin as desired. Then you may serve additional pesto with the salad for optional drizzling.
- FOR THE STRAWBERRY PESTO:
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
- 1/3 cup toasted almonds, walnuts or pecans (I used almonds)
- 1/3 cup packed fresh basil leaves
- 3-5 fresh ripe strawberries, hulled (I used 5)
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and pepper to taste (I used a slightly rounded 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of the pepper mill)
- REMAINING SALAD INGREDIENTS:
- 1/2 pound whole wheat pasta (Genevieve’s family likes bowties), cooked according to package directions (I tossed with a teaspoon or two of olive oil after draining)
- 1 cup strawberries, washed and sliced
- 1 small cucumber, cubed or sliced
- 1 can navy or cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 1/3 cup strawberry pesto (could substitute other favorite pesto)
- Salad greens of your choice (I used spinach)
- 10 fresh basil leaves, chopped
- Optional garnishes: goat or feta cheese, avocado, walnuts, almonds or pecan
- For the pesto: Process the cheese, nuts, and basil using short pulses until they form a paste. Add the strawberries and olive oil and mix until smooth. Add salt and pepper and pulse once or twice.
- The pesto stores well in the refrigerator for a few days in a tightly lidded container. (Genevieve’s family spreads extra on toast.)
- For the salad: Combine all but the greens and basil.
- Chill for 45 minutes or so.
- Serve over greens, top with basil leaves, and add desired garnishes.
I mixed roughly chopped fresh spinach into the salad instead of serving over top.