Since I don’t eat a lot of pasta anymore, this blog is sadly lacking in pasta recipes. Recently, however, I needed to make a dish for a potluck, and since asparagus is once again affordable, I decided to make my basic, go-to vegan pasta salad (even if it’s definitely not salad weather here in frosty Mississippi).
I call it “A to Z Pasta Salad” because the vegetables you can use start with Asparagus and end with Zucchini—so many variations are possible. The one unbreakable rule is to use only fresh vegetables and blanch those that are normally eaten cooked to soften slightly rather than cook them until mushy. Even at this time of year, it’s refreshing to have a touch of spring on the dinner table.
To make this fat-free pasta into a main dish, I always add either tofu, beans, or some other vegan protein. I’ve included the marinated, baked tofu option below, but a can of drained chickpeas is an easier option, and soy curls–about 1 cup dry–are especially good if you rehydrate them in a tasty vegetable broth.
I used my favorite homemade vinaigrette, Balsamic-Raisin Dressing, but you can use any fat-free dressing you like and add enough so that the pasta is coated but not sopping wet. Italian dressing is the first thing most people reach for when making a vegan pasta salad like this, but be adventurous and try different dressing and vegetable combinations, like Tahini-Chickpea Dressing with chickpeas, cucumber, and snow peas.
A to Z Pasta Salad
- 8 ounces extra-firm lite tofu not silken (Or instead of marinating and baking tofu, substitute 1 can of chickpeas, drained)
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce or tamari
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 clove garlic slightly crushed
- 1 pound penne or spiral pasta use gluten-free rice pasta, if necessary
- 1 bunch asparagus tough ends removed and sliced into 1 1/2-inch pieces
- 2 medium zucchini halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch slices
- 1/2 yellow or red pepper chopped
- 8 ounces grape or cherry tomatoes halved if large
- 2-3 tablespoons fresh herbs of choice I used basil, oregano, and parsley
- your favorite fat-free Italian salad dressing to taste
- salt and fresh pepper to taste
- optional: sliced black olives added just before serving
- Cut the tofu into 1/2-inch slices, and press each one gently between paper towels to remove excess moisture. Cut each slice into half-inch cubes.
- Mix up a marinade of the soy sauce, cider vinegar, water, and garlic. Put the tofu into a bowl or zip-lock plastic bag and pour the marinade over it. Allow it to marinate for at least an hour, up to overnight, turning or stirring the tofu once in a while to make sure it all gets covered.
- Preheat oven to 375 F. Remove the tofu from the marinade (discarding the marinade and garlic) and place it on an oiled or parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, and then turn and bake for 10 more. Edges should be just beginning to brown. Place the tofu cubes in a large serving bowl and toss with a little Italian dressing.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. (Add a small amount of salt, if you want.) Once it boils, drop the asparagus and zucchini pieces into it and blanch for exactly 1 1/2 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon into a bowl filled with cold water. Once they have cooled, add them to the tofu.
- Use the same pot of boiling water to cook the pasta according to package directions. Once it reaches the al dente stage, drain it in a colander and rinse it with cold water. (Be careful not to overcook; you want it to still have some “bite” to it so that it won’t fall apart in the salad.) Drain it well and add it to the tofu and vegetables.
- Add the yellow or red pepper, tomatoes, and herbs and toss with enough salad dressing to coat but not drown the pasta. Add salt and fresh pepper to taste, and serve chilled or at room temperature. Makes enough for a crowd!
Nutritional info is approximate.