When you’re having a group of people over for a BBQ, the easiest thing to do is grab a few containers of pre-made potato or macaroni salad from the deli to go alongside your grilled fare. It’s a guaranteed crowd pleaser and doesn’t require any extra work in the kitchen. I won’t knock it, I’ve been there. But these salads are big time diet busters. The typical deli variety macaroni salad usually has as much mayonnaise as it does macaroni! It’s full of saturated fat, carbs and even sugar. Overall, not a wise choice.
I’m offering an alternative to those typical deli salads with my Caprese Pasta Salad. It’s quick and easy and worth the few minutes of extra time at the stove. I love Caprese Salad. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s a layered salad with slices of fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil leaves. I could have easily made a traditional Caprese Salad, but it can get fairly pricey to buy fresh mozzarella for a group. I stretched it along by taking the same flavors and turning it into a hearty pasta salad side dish. You start by marinating bocconcini mozzarella balls and quartered cherry tomatoes in Italian dressing. I usually put this mixture in the fridge to marinate a few hours before I want to make the salad so the flavors can really develop. If you don’t have the time, just let them soak for at least half an hour. After the marinating, this dish comes together in a snap.
Instead of going for a mayo-based dressing, this one uses olive oil as the base. It’s fairly common knowledge that olive oil has a whole slew of health benefits. But, I never really knew exactly what they were. I just knew I was supposed to eat it. After a quickie Google search, I discovered that olive oil is packed with mono-unsaturated “good fats” and can help to achieve balanced cholesterol levels and prevent heart disease. Sign me up! Going one step further and swapping out the white pasta for whole wheat boosts the overall protein and fiber content in this dish.
If I’m serving this as a side, I put it out at room temperature. But, you can also serve it hot topped with grilled chicken for a quick weeknight dinner. Just pull the pan off the heat a few minutes before you toss the cheese and tomato mixture into the skillet. If it’s sitting right on the flame, the cheese clumps together and makes serving a little stringy. Hot or cold, I hope you’ll try out a new BBQ staple.
* Get cooking. Let me know what you think. Love it? Hate it? I’m interested in hearing your feedback and suggestions.