Healthy Side Dish: Balsamic Eggplant Pasta Salad
Just in case you are still trying to figure out what to make for your Labor Day picnic or potluck, I’m sharing a very easy, healthy recipe that everyone will love.
I’ve been trying to eat healthier and this recipe is great because the only fat in it is extra virgin olive oil, which is one of those good fats. There are no processed foods either.
Best yet, it will work alongside your chicken or burgers or steak as a your starch-vegetable-salad all in one bowl. Since it is served room temperature, it’s easy to take with you anywhere and it will taste just as good after a couple of hours on the buffet as it did when you set it out.
It’s also a great base recipe to use with your favorite vegetables. Just leave out anything you don’t like and substitute similar items. Any raw veggies will work fine in this recipe. If you have a vegetable that would be better cooked, simply follow the instructions for cooking the eggplant.
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Balsamic Eggplant Pasta Salad:
1 lb farfalle or fusilli pasta (bow tie or spirals)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 medium yellow squash, sliced and quartered
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced and then chopped
1 pint grape tomatoes
8 oz fresh mozzarella, small balls or cut into cubes
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 cups mixed greens
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
A couple of thoughts on the ingredients…
The EVOO and freshly ground pepper really add a lot to this recipe. I strongly suggest you don’t substitute other oils or use pre-ground pepper.
I also recommend sticking with bow ties or spirals for your pasta. Noodles like penne do better with a thick, clingy sauce rather than the thin sauce you get with this recipe.
Whole grape or cherry tomatoes are a better option than cutting up tomatoes. The whole tomatoes will hold up much better than chopped tomatoes and you’ll appreciate having them whole when you dig into the leftovers the next day. But if larger tomatoes is all you have, I’m sure they would work fine.
If you’ve never had fresh mozzarella, this is the recipe to try it. You won’t find fresh mozzarella in the standard cheese section of most stores, but any store with a specialty cheese department will have it. I buy the small cherry size balls, but you could also get a large ball and cut it up. As a last resort, use regular mozzarella, but it won’t absorb the flavors of the balsamic vinegar or olive oil. If I couldn’t get fresh mozzarella, I would probably try goat cheese or feta cheese before going with firm mozzarella.
I like the spring greens mix for both the visual appeal and the flavors they add. But you could go with any greens mix. Spinach would be great in this too. Just stay away from iceberg lettuce please. It really doesn’t do justice to this recipe.
While the pasta and eggplant is cooking, slice up your yellow summer squash and red onions.
To keep everything bit sized, you’ll want to quarter the larger slices of the squash. The smaller ones can be left whole or cut in half.
I do my best to avoid extra dishes that I’ll have to wash, so I actually added my squash, onions, tomatoes and cheese on top of the pasta in the colander until I was ready to mix it all together.
As you can see, bite size is important. The cheese is also one of the favorite parts of the dish for a lot of people, so I cut each cherry sized ball in half. It is the perfect size to absorb the flavors and give you a clear flavor of the cheese, while making it go a bit farther.
At this point, you are ready to start mixing everything together. Find a really large bowl. If you don’t have one big enough, then use the pot that you cooked the pasta in or a large soup pot.
Start with the adding to the pot the pasta, squash, onion, tomatoes and cheese. Mix with a large spoon or your hands (I found it much easier to do this with my hands!). Then add the chopped parsley and mix in.
Next add the cooked eggplant and greens.
After everything is mixed together, then add the balsamic vinegar and mix one last time.
Either serve immediately or refrigerate to be served later in the day. While the leftovers are good, I would recommend making this past salad recipe the day you plan to serve it.
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Adapted from Rachel Ray