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Pasta Salad

Happy Independence Day!  Today's recipe is a natural at Independence Day picnics -- healthy, easy to fix and transport, pretty to look at, and always popular.  I don't think I've ever had leftovers to take home after a picnic.  OK, I know most everyone has their own version of pasta salad and that you can buy them at delis everywhere, but you have to agree that it's one of the most versatile dishes on the planet and therefore worth talking about a bit.  The good news for those who have to eat wheat free is that there are now great wheat free pastas available.  (Look here if you're searching for one.)  And, there's no better way to use up leftover vegetables or clean out your refrigerator than a pasta salad -- virtually anything works in it!  The trick is putting together good combinations.  So here's some suggestions of how to get started, and then some variations.

Pasta Salad

1 12-16 oz pkg brown rice pasta, your choice of shape, cooked, drained, rinsed with cold water, drained again
Chopped vegetables -- the following are basic to all recipes:
celery, sliced
radishes, sliced
green pepper, diced
carrots, cut small
zucchini, diced
cucumber, diced

For an all-vegetable pasta salad, you can add any or all of the following:
green onion, sliced, or red onion, diced
broccoli, cut small
cauliflower, cut small
mushrooms, sliced
avocados, ripe but firm, diced
canned beans of your choice, drained and rinsed well

To make it super easy, just use your favorite gluten-free Italian salad dressing as the sauce for it.  Add some, stir, taste, add more and keep going until it's to your liking.  If you make it a day ahead, be sure you stir and taste before serving -- you may have to add more dressing as the pasta absorbs some while it sits.  If you'd like to make your own dressing, here's a good one:

1/2 Cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 Cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
ground black pepper to taste

Whisk together in a bowl.  Pour over pasta salad and stir.  Add additional salt to taste, if desired.

For a vegetable/fruit pasta salad, you can add any or all to the basic recipe:

pineapple chunks
mandarin oranges
fresh oranges, chopped
grapefruit sections
apple chunks
kiwi fruit, chopped
fresh berries or strawberries if serving immediately (they turn everything pink if left overnight)
raisins, craisins, dried cherries, or other dried fruits

Here's a light citrus dressing I love for a fruited pasta salad:

1/2 Cup orange juice
1/4 Cup lemon juice
1/4 Cup vegetable oil
1/2 tsp seasoned salt
1/8 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp pepper

Combine all ingredients in a blender, cover and process until blended.  Pour over salad, stir and taste, adding salt as desired, until it tastes right to you.  Refrigerate any leftover dressing.

Mayonnaise thinned with a little fruit juice also works well as a dressing.

Nuts or seeds can be added for additional crunch and good taste. If you want to make either salad into a main dish salad, just add cooked, chopped meat:  chicken, turkey, ham, shrimp, beef, or pork.

The variations are endless!  Get creative and have fun.  Here's a picture of a pasta salad I made today -- it's just the basic recipe with chopped fresh orange added and the citrus dressing.  Yummy!

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