I am on the road for work fairly often, and although my teenage daughter and husband can surely fend for themselves while I am away, it puts me at ease knowing I have left them with a couple of prepared dishes in the refrigerator. This pasta salad is one I make again and again at my daughter’s request, whether I am heading out of town or not. She typically digs into it when she gets home from school, famished after volleyball practice, but I have dubbed it the lunch lox pastasalad because of the way it holds up in a cooler pack, making it an ideal midday meal for toting to work or school.
I use whole-grain pasta (specifically fusilli, because its corkscrew shape ensnares all the flavorful salad ingredients), but you could use any short shape: farfalle or penne, for example. The salad is chock-full of chopped, colorful vegetables — bell peppers, broccoli and tomatoes — along with diced, fresh mozzarella cheese or, when I can find them, pearl-size mozzarella balls. The dressing is a classic combination of extra-virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, basil, oregano, salt, pepper and a touch of garlic.
But what makes this salad most unique and serviceable is what it doesn’t have. There is nothing in it that becomes soggy or unappealing after several days in the refrigerator or hours in a lunchbox. Instead of dicing a large tomato, which quickly becomes mealy mush with refrigeration, I use grape tomatoes, which are firm enough to hold up beautifully. The bell peppers and broccoli retain their crispness, as would cooked and chilled cauliflower, green beans or corn, if you happen to have those on hand. And instead of the torn, fresh basil I might include if I were serving this salad right away, I use dried herbs to avoid unappealing, oxidized, wilted leaves.
It’s a salad that will keep well in your refrigerator for several days and, I am confident, will make it into regular rotation in your home, as it has in mine.
Lunch box pasta salad
This colorful, whole-grain pasta salad, chock-full of vegetables and fresh mozzarella cheese in an herb-garlic vinaigrette dressing, earns its name because of the way it holds up in a cooler pack, making it an ideal midday meal for toting to work or school.
8 ounces whole-grain fusilli pasta
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 small clove garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 medium yellow bell pepper, diced
½ pint grape tomatoes, quartered
1 cup cooked, chilled, coarsely chopped broccoli
6 ounces fresh, part-skim mozzarella cheese, cut into ¼- to ½-inch dice
Cook the pasta al dente according to the directions on the package. Drain, then transfer it to a large bowl, toss with 1 teaspoon of the oil and allow it to cool completely.
Whisk together in a small bowl the remaining 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons of olive oil, the vinegar, oregano, basil, garlic, salt and black pepper to form a dressing.
Add the bell pepper, tomatoes, broccoli, mozzarella and dressing to the pasta, and toss to combine.
Nutrition per serving: 450 calories, 21 g protein, 47 g carbohydrates, 21 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 590 mg sodium, 7 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar