For the same reason I love making a big pot of soup on Sunday, I love making a giant bowl of super simple pasta salad. You can load it with whatever veggies you need to use up, add a little chicken, and throw it in pre-packaged lunch containers in the fridge for grab-and-goes all week. It’s delicious! And if you do it right, it can be pretty healthy, too.
I’m notoriously not a morning person and will sleep until the last possible second, so having lunch already made for the week let’s me get my precious Z’s and saves me from buying lunch.
The idea behind my pasta salad, if I haven’t emphasized it enough, is its simplicity. You just take a box of short pasta (like penne, rigatoni, or rotini), take whatever veggies you like (or need to be used), add a little chicken for protein (tofu would work, too), and toss in a light balsamic vinaigrette (or any olive oil based dressing). I like tomatoes and olives in every pasta salad, and both are really easy to grab at the market. Cucumbers, zucchini, carrots, celery, spinach, bell peppers, jicama, beans, or cheese would be good, too. You have a lot of wiggle room on this, so go nuts! Here’s what I did this week…
What you’ll need:
1 16 ounce box rotini pasta
1 pint grape tomatoes (about 2 cups, or whatever you have on hand)
1 can olives
2 cups arugula
1 1/2 cups light balsamic vinaigrette
2 chicken breasts
What you’ll need to do:
Get that pasta cooking according to the instructions on the box – after you add your short pasta to boiling water, it’ll take about 10 minutes to cook. Use the taste test to check if it’s done (my preferred method, of course).
Slice your chicken in small bite-sized chunks so they’ll be ready to pop right in the salad. Throw your bite-sized chicken chunks in a large pan over medium-high heat (don’t forget to spray with cooking spray!). Turn with a spatula to make sure all sides are cooked. After it’s done, just turn off the heat and let it sit until everything else is ready.
My chicken takes about as long as the pasta, so I figure I can pack in a little protein while I’m already in the kitchen.
While your pasta and chicken cook, slice your grape tomatoes in half and add them to a giant salad bowl as you go. Then drain your olives, and dump them in the bowl with the tomatoes. Add your arugula. Super simple, no?
I try to make my tomatoes about the same size as my olives so that I can get as much goodness on my fork as possible.
Once your pasta is done, drain and add back to the pot. Toss your pasta with about half of your salad dressing so it has a chance to seep into the hot pasta and so the pasta doesn’t stick (I really don’t measure this, I just add most of the bottle of salad dressing by the time all is said and done, tasting to make sure it’s good as I go). Let it briefly cool.
Lastly, add your pasta and chicken to the large salad bowl with the tomatoes, olives, and arugula. Toss with the remainder of the salad dressing and portion out into lunch-sized containers for the rest of the week. Or, save it as a special side for another dinner that week.