Lemon-Mustard Pasta Salad with Tomatoes and Feta

Well folks, it is officially picnic season, not to mention BBQ season and pool party season and dinner on the fire-escape season. Chances are, you’re going to need to bring some eats to a party or twelve this summer and I promise you, you want this recipe in your back pocket.

I am a carb girl. Don’t get me wrong, I also probably eat more fresh vegetables than a vegan rabbit, but when it comes down to it, I want a baguette, with cheese….I want a buttermilk biscuit….I want a scone and then I want a big ass bowl of pasta. Avoiding carbs to lose weight? Crazy talk. How can you be happy without carbs!? It should be no surprise, then, that I love a good pasta salad. The problem is, pasta salads are so often dry and bland and just so totally retro and boring. Or, alternatively, they’re drowned in mayo and cheese, which, though delicious (omgIlovemesomemayo), doesn’t do much for you during bikini season. Well let me tell you folks, I have found the solution to your pasta salad woes. This salad isn’t even remotely dry, or bland, or boring and, BONUS!, it’s really pretty good for you (as far as large bowls of carbs go, at least).

You know a recipe is a winner if I make it more than once. I am constantly reading cookbooks and food mags and cooking blogs and consequently have a never-ending list of things I want to make at any given time. I mean, my pinterest is blowing up people, there is no time for repeats. But I’ve been making this salad for years-really, years. My friends know it and it shows up to more picnics than are its fair share. It’s one of those recipes that seems far far too simple to be anything mindblowing, and then does just that. Bright from the lemon, aromatic and spicy from the mustard, fresh from the tomatoes and salty from the feta, it’s summer incarnate.

And pretty! Did I mention that? You eat with your eyes, you know-it’s very important that things be pretty sometimes. Red, green, and white….it’s like the italian flag in there. Aside from the banging flavor and the aesthetics of this dish, I think the reason I always come back to it is its simplicity. A fast boil, a little chopping, and a quick vinaigrette of simple pantry-staple ingredients and voila! I’m  ready to party. And so are you. Bring on the carbs.

Lemon-Mustard Pasta Salad

Adapted from Bon Appétit. Serves 6-8. 

This salad is infinitely adaptable. I used campagnelle instead of penne, but you could use any short, sturdy noodle, like fusilli. The recipe calls for whole grain mustard, but I used a combo of whole grain and regular dijon (because I love it). I pretty much always add a tiny bit of sugar to a vinaigrette in order to cut the tartness a bit….but you should just taste your vinaigrette as you go and see what you think, since mustards can vary so so greatly in flavor. Finally, feel free to add whatever veggies you want. Im sure this would be delicious with zucchini or artichokes.

12 oz penne pasta
7 T extra-virgin olive oil
4 T fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
3 T whole grain mustard
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 t grated lemon peel (from 2 large lemons)
pinch of sugar
2 c small cherry tomatoes, halved
1 1/2 c chopped red bell peppers
1 1/2 c crumbled feta cheese
1 c chopped green onions (from 1 small bunch)

  • Boil the penne in a large pot of heavily salted water (it should taste like the ocean), until al dente. Rinse under cool water, drain, and add to a large bowl
  • While the penne boils, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, garlic, lemon zest and sugar. Season with salt and black pepper to taste
  • Add the tomatoes, peppers, feta and onion to the cooled pasta
  • Gently fold in the vinaigrette, taste and then season with salt and pepper, if needed
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