From Dish Jess:
I have two words for you, readers: Tomato Season!! Here in California it starts way earlier than on the East Coast, and we’re in the height of it right now. There are gorgeous heirloom varieties everywhere, and I can’t get enough – sungold, early girls, cherry charm – even their names are irresistible. Tomatoes are one of my favorite foods – their versatility and richness of flavor makes them indispensable in sauces, salads and sandwiches, and they lend themselves equally beautifully to grilled, roasted or sautéed dishes.
This saucy salad was part of a light summer meal that I threw together on a weeknight. I’d been eating a LOT of meat, and knew I needed a healthy vegetarian dinner. I’ve never been a fan of mayo-based salads (though a great potato salad easily breaks me down), but I wanted to make something fresh and healthy that would satisfy my craving for chewy pasta and veggies drenched in something super-tasty. I’ve been on a condiments kick recently, so I decided to make a dressing with a little more depth than your average vinaigrette.
For the dressing:
2 tbsp water
1/3 cup olive oil
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 small garlic clove
2 small strawberries, trimmed
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp diced red onion
small handful of fresh basil leaves
salt and coarse black pepper, to taste
Combine all ingredients in a blender or mixing bowl. I used an immersion (hand) blender to blend; a stand-alone blender would be fine as well. Puree until all ingredients are mixed and no chunks remain. The dressing should be a little thicker than chocolate milk (whole milk please!); if it’s too thick, add a teaspoon or two of water and blend again. Let the dressing sit while you assemble the salad; this can even be made a day in advance since the flavors mix well as they steep together.
For the salad:
½ lb whole wheat penne
2 ½ cups fresh baby spinach
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 cup chickpeas
8 oz fresh mozzarella, diced ¼”
½ cup chopped fresh basil
3 tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted
Boil and drain the pasta, toss lightly to cool. When still warm but not hot, mix the spinach in. Add tomatoes, chickpeas, cheese, basil and pine nuts. Add your Strawberry Balsamic Dressing, toss to coat evenly, garnish wish a sprig of basil.
I served this with a personalized take on garlic bread – a baguette that I cut, brushed with a garlic & herb marinade leftover from the weekend, and toasted in foil until perfectly crusty and hot. Serves 4, with bread.