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Chris Cooks

Italian Summer Pasta Salad (Grain-Free, Dairy-Free)

June 2, 2024

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This recipe is a mixture of several pasta salads I grew up eating. It has an Italian flavor profile with lots of basil, tomatoes, Italian sausage and figs, but I add more texture and color with plenty of vegetables, some grilled, some raw. They’re all chopped up to make a fresh salad that’s an amazing dish even without the pasta. But add the pasta (grain-free if you please), and you’ve got a hearty lunch that’s summer in a bowl.

Chris Loves Julia | Italian Summer Pasta Salad

Salad Bowl | White Bowl | Kitchen Hand Towel

To me, the key here is using shell pasta. I’m a big fan of Banza pasta noodles, which are grain-free and high in protein, but you can use any shell pasta you like. I always salt my pasta water before cooking and — secret tip — I also add a splash of either white wine vinegar or red wine vinegar, which infuses even more flavor in the pasta.

You probably haven’t seen many pasta salads that feature fresh figs. They can be delicate and harder to find, but I like to go off the traditional script and include them in this salad. Of course you don’t have to use figs, but if you can find them in season, they add a honeyed flavor that is entirely welcome here.

Over on the grill, I add sliced zucchini and mushrooms for that smoky flavor, and then throw on the Italian sausage until it’s cooked through with some nice grill marks. To round out the main ingredients, I chop up some raw yellow bell peppers and sweet Vidalia onion for sweetness and Castelvetrano olives (my favorite) for saltiness.

Chris Loves Julia | I Chris holding a bowl of Italian Summer Pasta Salad

Salad Bowl | Wooden Serving Spoon

For the dressing, the key is to infuse the vinaigrette with the flavors that are already in the dish. So I add the remaining grilled vegetable and sausage juices, lemon juice and zest, olive brine, honey, and dijon mustard to some fruity olive oil for a balanced and delicious vinaigrette.

Chris Loves Julia | I Close-up on Chris holding a bowl of Italian Summer Pasta Salad

It all gets tossed together in a serving bowl, and it’s ready to serve. This pasta salad just feels like a Mediterranean getaway. It’s packed with flavor and color, and it’s a feast for the eyes. Plus, it’s easy to transport for a picnic or BBQ. Let me know how you like this one; I hope it makes it into your repertoire as a summer staple.

Italian Summer Pasta Salad (Grain-Free, Dairy-Free)

Recipe by Chris Marcum
Course: SaladsCuisine: MediterraneanDifficulty: Easy
Servings

10

servings
Prep time

30

minutes
Cooking time

30

minutes
Cook Mode

Keep the screen of your device on

Ingredients

  • For Grilling
  • 1 large zucchini, cut lengthwise in slices 1/4in thick

  • 3 portabello mushrooms

  • 1 tsp garlic powder

  • 1/2 tsp allspice powder

  • 1 tbsp olive oil

  • 1/4 tsp salt

  • 1/4 tsp black pepper

  • 6 Italian chicken sausage links

  • Fresh Ingredients
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

  • 1 cup diced sweet onion

  • 1 cup castelvetrano olives, no pits, cut in half

  • 1 large yellow bell pepper, small diced

  • 6 figs, fresh, quartered

  • 1 cup basil, roughly chopped

  • For the dressing
  • 2 tbsp castelvetrano olive brine

  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

  • 2 tsp lemon zest

  • 1 1/2 tsp dijon mustard

  • 1-2 tbsp honey

  • 2 tbsp olive oil

  • TT salt and pepper

  • Other
  • 4 servings prepared pasta shells – I used Banza, use whatever kind you like

Directions

  • Grill the vegetables and sausages
  • In a bowl, toss the zucchini and mushrooms with the olive oil and seasonings. Grill the vegetables and sausages until cooked through. Set aside in a bowl.
  • Make the dressing
  • Once the vegetables and sausage have rested, pour whatever juices have gathered in the bowl of grilled ingredients into another mixing bowl, and add the other dressing ingredients. Whisk together.
  • Assemble the salad
  • Slice the sausages, and dice the grilled vegetables. In a large bowl, combine together the sausage, grilled vegetables, and all of the fresh ingredients. Add half the dressing and toss together. Add the cooked pasta, the rest of the dressing, and gently fold together (especially if using Banza noodles – they tend to fall apart). Serve at room temperature.

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What do you think?

  1. Elise W says:

    Substitution for 2 tbsp if not using olive brine?

    • Chris Loves Julia says:

      A good sub for the olive brine would just be salt water: 2 tbsp water, 1 tsp salt.

    • Celia McMath says:

      I made this. It’s delicious. I tweaked it a bit. Couldn’t find figs so I used fresh Tennessee corn. Used hot peach honey and omitted raw onion. (Food allergy) also cooked veges and sausage in broiler. Raining the night I made it so no grilling.

  2. Caroline says:

    Chris, you are on a roll! I truly can’t wait to try this one. And figs… GENIUS! What brand Italian chicken sausage do you like to use? Cricket is adorable in the video.

  3. Gretchen says:

    So many good summer recipes recently – I’m excited to try this one!

  4. Debra Braun says:

    Love the flavor combinations! Placing a serving of fragile pasta on the plate first then topping it with the salad makes for a nice presentation.

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