Easy Peasy Pasta Salad

I’m looking through my blog posts and I realized that I haven’t posted my go-to pasta salad recipe!  This recipe has been a staple in my house for years…it’s a great summertime, BBQ, feed a bunch of people kind of recipe.  What I love most about this pasta salad is its versatility; you can pretty much make this recipe however you like.  I also love the colors in the salad, with the Rainbow Rotini and fresh vegetables…it reminds me of summer and good times with family and friends.  Oh, and did I mention it’s ridiculously easy to make (hence the title)?

 

This is actually my husband’s original recipe.  My husband is not a big fan of cooking…his meals usually consist of Kraft Mac and Cheese, although he has become quite the griller as of late (is griller even a word?? Meh, whatever!).  My Mother-in-Law used to make this recipe when my husband was a kid, and he made it for me a long, long time ago.  We’ve made a lot of variations of this recipe; we’ve omitted the olives and bacon and added jalapenos, cilantro and pepperjack cheese (thanks to my friend Chi Chi for that idea!), and we’ve also added extra vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower or cucumber.  You can add whatever you think sounds tasty!  The only requirement for this recipe (according to my husband) is that you MUST use Newman’s Own Italian Dressing. According to him, no other dressing tastes quite the same.  I haven’t tested his theory, but I trust him.  🙂

I make this recipe in large quantities because it makes great leftovers the next day.  If you don’t want to make bucket loads of pasta (okay, it’s not really bucket loads, but it does make a lot of pasta salad), just cut the recipe in half.

 

 

 

 

Here’s the recipe:

2 Packages of Rainbow Rotini pasta, cooked al dente according to package directions

1 Package of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

1 Red bell pepper, chopped

1 Yellow bell pepper, chopped

1/2 Medium red onion, diced or finely chopped

5-6 Slices of bacon, cooked crispy and crumbled (you can also use bacon bits if you don’t have time to cook bacon, but I prefer the real deal)

1 Can sliced black olives

1 Bottle of Newman’s Own Italian Dressing

2 Tablespoons of Balsamic Vinegar (approximately-I just eyeball it)

1 Teaspoon garlic powder

1 Teaspoon seasoned salt

Salt and Pepper, to taste

1/2 Cup (about a handful) of parmesan cheese

There really aren’t a lot of instructions for this recipe; just throw everything into a bowl and mix it up!  I like to chill the pasta salad in the fridge for a few hours in order to serve cold, but it’s also good served room temperature or even warmed.  I sprinkle the parmesan cheese over the pasta salad right before serving.

 

 

 

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Rigatoni with Sausage and Spicy Tomato Sauce

This recipe was an instant favorite in our house; it was incredibly easy to make and sooo good!

My husband and I are big fans of spicy food, so we really enjoyed this one.  It’s not eye-watering spicy, but just enough heat and flavor to add a little kick.  The original recipe for this dish included heavy cream. I wanted to lighten it up a little so I changed it up a bit, but I bet it would be super good with cream!! You could probably skip the milk as well if you want a more tomato-style sauce.

Here’s the recipe for Rigatoni with Sausage and Spicy Tomato Sauce:

Inspired by the recipe: Sausage with Rigatoni and Tomato Cream Sauce

1 Package of Rigatoni pasta, cooked to al dente

1 Tablespoon of olive oil

2 Tablespoons of butter

2 Tablespoons of flour

1 cup milk (I used 1%-that’s what I had in my fridge)

1 Pound of Italian Sausage, casings removed

1 Large yellow onion (or 2 small), thinly sliced

2 Medium garlic cloves, chopped

1 Cup chicken stock

1 Can of Ro-Tel tomatoes

1/2 Teaspoon of salt (or to taste)

1/2 Teaspoon black pepper (or to taste)

1 Teaspoon red pepper flakes (I may have used more like 1 1/2 teaspoons; add in 1/2 teaspoon at a time until you have the desired flavor.  I like spicy food, so I add more!)

1/2 Teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 Teaspoon chili powder

1 Teaspoon garlic powder or salt

Large handful of parmesan cheese, plus extra to sprinkle on top

Cook the pasta al dente, according to package directions.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet.  Once the olive oil is heated, add the butter and allow it to melt.  Add the onion and saute it until it begins to caramelize.  Remove the Italian Sausage from the casings and add it to the sauteed onion; break the sausage up with a wooden spoon as it cooks and brown it until it is completely cooked through.  Add the garlic and cook for about 2-3 more minutes, then drain the extra fat.

After you’ve drained the fat, add 2 tablespoons of flour to the sausage/onion mixture and cook for 1 minute.  Add the chicken stock and bring it to a boil, then allow it to boil for 2-3 minutes or until the broth has reduced.  I reduced it by about half so the pasta would be thicker.  Add the Ro-tel tomatoes and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and allow it to simmer for about 5 minutes.  Add the milk, then bring back to a boil.  Once the sauce has begun to boil again, reduce back down to a simmer and allow it to simmer for 5 minutes more.  Add the red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, chili powder, garlic salt or powder, and salt and pepper and stir to combine the ingredients.  I allowed the sauce to simmer for about another 10 minutes, but you don’t have to do this step if you don’t want to or are short on time.

Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and stir to combine.  Add a large handful of parmesan cheese to the pasta and combine.  I also sprinkled a little extra parmesan cheese on top before serving.

I served this pasta with homemade garlic bread with parmesan cheese; the bread was great for dipping in the sauce.  So yummy!!!!

Italian Stuffed Shells

A friend of mine recently celebrated her birthday, so in honor of the occasion I hosted dinner at my house.  The guest of honor said she was in the mood for stuffed shells; I’ve never made stuffed shells before so I was excited to try something new.  I essentially used some of the same ingredients for making lasagna, but stuffed it into giant shells instead!

This was an easy recipe and great for serving a lot of people.  I actually doubled the recipe since I had a few guests.  I made the sauce and filling the night before, but I wouldn’t suggest preparing or stuffing the shells in advance because they may not hold together as well if they sit overnight. Since I made the sauce the night before, I reheated it on low heat to warm it up, and that’s when I added the ladleful of water from the pasta.

This recipe could easily be prepared vegetarian; just remove the meat from the recipe, and I think it would taste great!

This one was definitely a hit at the birthday bash and it will be a hit at your house as well!

 

Here’s the recipe for Italian Stuffed Shells:

1 package of large italian shells

2 cups of mozzarella cheese, divided

1 cup of parmesan cheese, divided

1 beef bullion cube

Cook the shells according to package directions, but add one cube of beef bullion to the boiling water before adding the shells to the pot.  Before draining the shells, reserve 1 ladleful of the water from the pot to use in your meat sauce.

Meat Sauce: 

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 pound ground beef or sirloin

1/2 pound italian sausage-I used mild sausage, but you could use hot if you want the sauce to be a little spicier.

1 yellow onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes

1 14.5 ounce can of tomato sauce

About 2 tablespoons of tomato paste-I just used about 1/2 a small can of tomato paste

1/2 cup red wine-okay, I probably used more like 3/4 to 1 cup but feel free to use what you like.  🙂 I used Cabernet Sauvignon, but Syrah would also be good if you want more of the flavor of the wine in your sauce.

1 ladleful of water from cooking the large shells (see directions for cooking the shells)

1 Tablespoon dried oregano or 1 teaspoon fresh oregano

About 2 tablespoons of fresh basil, chopped-I just used a small handful.

Salt and Pepper, to taste.

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and sausage and brown it, breaking it up with a wooden spoon.  When the meat is browned, add the onion and garlic and saute until the onion is soft and tender.  Stir the diced tomatoes into the pot and cook until most of the liquid from the tomatoes is cooked out.  Stir in the tomato sauce and tomato paste.  Add the wine and a ladleful of water from the pasta to the pot and bring to a bubble.  Add the oregano, basil, salt and pepper and bring to a bubble.  Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes.  If you can simmer it longer, that’s even better; the longer it simmers the better it will taste.

For the filling: 

1 16 oz container of ricotta cheese

1/2 cup mozzarella cheese

1/2 cup parmesan cheese

1 egg

About 1/2 cup frozen spinach, thawed and drained-I just used about 1/2 of a small frozen container of spinach

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

Salt and pepper, to taste-about 1/2 teaspoon of each

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl.

Putting it all together:

Preheat the oven to 425

Stuff each shell with about 1 tablespoon of the filling and place it into a 9X13 baking dish filling side up.  One baking dish should be large enough for all of the shells.  Once all the shells have been stuffed and placed into the pan, pour the meat sauce over the top of the shells.  I poured it a ladleful at a time so I wouldn’t damage the shells.  Cover the pan with foil and bake for 40 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle the shells with 1 1/2 cups of mozzarella cheese and 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese and return it to the oven.  Bake, uncovered for an additional 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and gooey.  Allow the shells to cool for about 5 minutes before serving, and sprinkle with a little extra basil for garnish, if you’d like.

Meltdown Macaroni Salad

My family and I moved to Arizona two years ago this month. Before living in Arizona, we were born and raised California residents.  While we miss our family and friends in California, it’s been fun exploring a new city and all the amenities it has to offer (like lots of restaurants!).

We really enjoy the Phoenix area. The weather is beautiful 9 months out of the year!  But, the other three months…well….it’s hot.  Really hot.  I mean, really, really hot.  We’ve adjusted to the heat over the last two years, but no matter how adjusted we are, 118 degrees is stifling.

There is a payoff for heat endurance. In December, when it’s supposed to be cold, rainy  and  grey(at least that’s what it was like in my home town), I’m wearing flip-flops and short sleeved shirts as I enjoy 75 degree weather. But although I know the blistering heat is reaching it’s yearly end and  beautiful weather awaits, a late summer meltdown occurs.  It’s happened every year since we’ve been here.  I reach a point at which my brain can no longer bear the sizzling heat, and I enter into a heat-induced rage.  It happened this year at the end of July.

Several of my friends that have moved here to Arizona also experience such a meltdown. But this year we decided to celebrate our meltdown, rather than lamenting it.  There’s nothing we can do about the heat, so why not embrace it?  So, to celebrate our love/hate relationship with the desert sun, we had a Summer Meltdown Party.

This meltdown party consisted mainly of tasty BBQ and summer sides, along with delicious cocktails (see Pear Martini), and swimming to cool off (at night, of course, because right now, it’s too hot to swim during the day).  One of those summer sides was the Meltdown Macaroni Salad.  This salad got its name because of the day it was made, and it’s a great way to chill out after a meltdown.  Enjoy!

Meltdown Macaroni Salad

1 Package of Small Salad Macaroni or Elbow Macaroni-I prefer salad macaroni

2-3 Hardboiled Eggs, chopped, (depending on how much egg you like in your salad)

2 Stalks Celery, Chopped

1 Carrot, Shredded

1 Medium Sized Onion, Finely Chopped

3/4 Cup Frozen Peas, Thawed

1 Small Can Sliced Olives, Drained (optional, I usually add olives, but didn’t add it this time because I forgot the olives)

1 Cup Mayonnaise

1/4 Cup Sugar

1/4 Cup  White Vinegar

1 Tablespoon Yellow Mustard

1 Tablespoon Dill Pickle Relish

1 Teaspoon Garlic Powder

1/2 Teaspoon Seasoned Salt

1  Teaspoons Salt

1/2 Teaspoon Fresh Ground Black Pepper

About 1  Teaspoon Paprika

Additional Salt and Pepper, to Taste

Fresh or Dried Dill for Garnish

Cook macaroni al dente, according to package directions.

In a medium bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, mustard, pickle relish, garlic powder, seasoned salt, and salt and pepper.  

In a separate large bowl, combine macaroni, egg, celery, carrots, onion,  peas and olives (if you’re using them).  Mix the dressing in a little at a time to combine.  If you pour it in all at once, it will be hard to mix completely.  Once the salad has been mixed together, sprinkle with paprika, about 1 teaspoon, and mix the pasta with the paprika.

Chill the macaroni salad for at least three hours, or, if you can, chill overnight.  Sprinkle with a little fresh or dried dill, for garnish.  

Spicy Pasta Salad with Smoked Gouda

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a great fondness of smoked cheeses.  I don’t know what it is about smoked cheese, but love any recipe that includes it.  It doesn’t matter what kind of smoked cheese-smoked cheddar, gouda, mozzarella, whatever-I’m not picky; if it’s smoked, I love it. 🙂

As you also may have noticed by the recipes I’ve posted so far, I also love pasta.  Pasta dishes are easy to make, versatile, and great for serving large groups.  And of course, pasta is delicious!!  I could never survive on a low carb diet; I think I would be a starving, angry person without carbs!

So, this recipe has two of my favorite ingredients-smoked gouda cheese and pasta!!  I got my inspiration for this one from another blog, but added my own spin.

The chipotles add a little spice and a lot of flavor.  The pasta includes chicken, so it can be a main dish or a side.   And the longer you let the pasta chill, the better it will taste. I let it chill for 2-3 hours and it was amazing!

You can also use whole grain or whole wheat pasta if you want to make it a little healthier; I’ve made this dish twice, and used wheat pasta the second time I made it.  It was great with regular pasta and whole wheat pasta, but I did notice that the dressing didn’t absorb as well into the wheat pasta, and the nutty flavor of the wheat took a little away from the flavor of the dressing.  Still good, but definitely a different flavor and consistency; I think that’s pretty common with wheat or whole grain pasta.

This recipe should serve 4, with some leftovers for lunch the next day.

Here’s my recipe for Spicy Pasta Salad with Smoked Gouda.  Enjoy! 

1 Package Penne Pasta, Cooked Al Dente According to Package Instructions

1 Container Grape Tomatoes, Halved

4-5 OZ Smoked Gouda Cheese, Cut into Bite Sized Chunks

1 1/2 Cups Cooked Chicken Breast, Cut into Bite Sized Chunks

14-15 Basil Leaves, Shredded or Chopped

For the Dressing:

1 Cup Mayonaise

1/3 Cup White Vinegar

6 Tablespoons Milk

4-5 Tablespoons of Chipotle in Adobo Sauce, or One Chipotle in Adobo Finely Chopped (you can find this in a can, usually in the hispanic foods section of your favorite grocery store)*** 

Salt and Pepper, to Taste

***Usually when you cook with chipotle in adobo, you’ll have a bunch left over.  A cool trick to save the rest is to freeze it in a ziploc bag; then you can use it the next time you need it!! I learned this trick from Rachael Ray. 🙂

After the penne pasta is cooked and drained, transfer to a large bowl.

Combine mayonnaise,  milk, vinegar, and chipotles.

Combine pasta with dressing, tomatoes, basil, chicken and smoked gouda.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Chill pasta until cold; the longer it chills, the better it tastes, so try to give it 2-3 hours.

Creamy Ranch Pasta Salad

Whenever I host an event or party, I like to prepare as much food as I can ahead of time.  As much as Chef PickyKid and I like to cook and be in the kitchen, it’s always a bummer being confined to the kitchen while everyone else is enjoying the party!  Plus, preparing ahead of time means that all the mess involved with cooking will be cleaned before the guests arrive!

This is a great recipe to make ahead of time; it’s easy to prepare and tastes better after it’s had a little time to chill in the fridge.

I usually make this salad when I’m cooking for a large group because it’s very easy to make.The recipe I’m posting is for 4-6 servings but I double it up for a party! I recently made this for Chef PickyKid’s birthday party and it was a big success!

Creamy Ranch Pasta Salad

1 Package Cooked Small Shell Pasta

1 Carrot, Peeled and Shredded or Thinly Chopped

1/2 Cucumber, Peeled and Chopped

1/2 Cup Diced Celery-Approximately 2 Stalks Celery

1 Cup Halved Grape Tomatoes (About 1/2 Container)

2 Hard Boiled Eggs, Chopped

4-5 Strips Cooked Bacon, Chopped

Dressing Ingredients:

1 Cup Mayonnaise

Approximately 1/2 Packet Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing Seasoning (you can use 1/2 cup prepared ranch dressing, but I like the seasoning-it gives it a more ranch-y flavor! 🙂 )

6 Tablespoons Milk (I use 1% milk)

4 Tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar

2 Tablespoons Dried Minced Onion (you could omit the minced onion and add 1/2 fresh, chopped yellow onion or 2-3 chopped scallions to the salad.  I’ve tried all three options and they’re all tasty!)

1 Teaspoon Seasoned Salt

1 Teaspoon Garlic Powder

1/2 Teaspoon Mustard Seasoning

Salt and Pepper, to taste

Cook pasta according to directions.  In a large  bowl, combine pasta and all vegetables, as well as the bacon.  In a small bowl, combine all dressing ingredients and pour over salad ingredients. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

NOTE: Add a little dressing at a time until you get the desired consistency.  You may not use all of the dressing, depending on your preference.  I like to make a little extra so I can be sure I have enough!