At this time of year, salads like this Mediterranean Penne Pasta Salad are a tasty alternative to serving a heavy meal on a hot day. In this dish, tender penne pasta, cubed mozzarella cheese, smoked ham, red onion, cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives and crisp steamed asparagus are all tossed in a robust Italian dressing. For this Mediterranean inspired delight there’s no mayonnaise but rather, the tangy bright flavors of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and Italian seasonings instead. Serve it as a light lunch, as a side dish at your next backyard barbecue or as a main dish at the end of a sultry day. It’s bright, fresh and packed with flavor.
Easy dishes like this pasta salad can be personalized to suit your taste. If you prefer to make your own Italian dressing take a peek at this one for inspiration. Keep in mind, the point of this salad is to keep things easy hence the reason I developed it using a quality prepared salad dressing. While I adore mayonnaise, it’s nice to depart from the norm sometimes and enjoy the fresh flavors of an oil and vinegar based dressing instead. The rainbow of ingredients in this salad actually become more robust when made the night before allowing the flavors to marry. Place it into a pretty serving dish and garnish with grated Parmesan cheese and ribbons of fresh basil just before serving.
Mediterranean Penne Pasta Salad
- ½ lb penne pasta
- ½ lb steamed asparagus
- 1 cup cubed mozzarella cheese
- 1 cup cubed smoked ham
- ½ pint cherry tomatoes halved
- ⅓ cup purple onion thinly sliced
- ⅓ cup whole Kalamata Olives
- 1 1/2 cup prepared Italian salad dressing i.e. Marzetti's Plus additional as needed
- 1 tsp dry Italian seasoning
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- Salt and black pepper
- 3 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 Tbsp chiffonade fresh basil
- Cook the penne pasta in salted water per the instructions on the box, until al dente. Drain well then add to a medium-size mixing bowl.
- Remove the tough portion of the asparagus stem then steam until crisp tender. Slice into 1- inch pieces.
- Add the sliced asparagus, mozzerella cheese, ham, cherry tomatoes, onion, olives. dressing, Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes to the cooked pasta. Mix until the ingredients are well coated. Taste and add salt and black pepper to your taste. (The amount can vary depending on the dressing used)
- Place the bowl into the refrigerator and allow to chill covered for at least 4 hours or overnight.
- Just before serving, stir well and adjust the amount of dressing, salt and black pepper, to your taste.
- Pour into a serving bowl. Garnish with Parmesan cheese and basil ribbons just before serving.
Hard salami or prosciutto may be used in place of the smoked ham.