This tuscan pasta salad makes a perfect hearty dinner, side salad or lunch – or take along to your next barbecue or potluck. I love a hearty salad – I’m not saying your diet’s done for if you eat this, but it is a full balanced meal rather than simply an arrangement of vegetables, and it will leave you satisfied.
I find it fascinating the way those of us in Britain and the US (and I’m sure elsewhere) treat Italian cuisine. We frequently make dishes we call spaghetti bolognese – which we believe to be Italian – despite the fact that the Italians don’t even serve bolognese sauce with spaghetti. And you’re more likely to find carrots in the Italian Bolognese sauce than the olives, mushrooms and anything vaguely Italian that we like to throw in. In Italy a pasta sauce will be just enough to coat the pasta, and mixed through it – none of this islands of sauce sat on top of a pile of pasta that we like.
Tuscan bean soup seems pretty similar. Wikipedia tells me that a traditional soup in Tuscany is Ribolita, a reboiled version of yesterday’s minestrone or vegetable soup, which usually contains cannellini beans. Perhaps this is the origin of ‘tuscan bean soup’, but rather than paupers’ pantry foods like onion, carrot and leftover bread the tuscan bean soup I buy in a can is crammed with tomato, peppers, seasoning and different types of bean. I’m sure this is what we perceive Italian cuisine to be – stick a tomato and herb sauce and some garlic, and perhaps an olive on, and you have something Italian style.
Tuscan Pasta Salad
I’m not saying I’m not guilty of doing this – I’m sure I am. In creating this dish my aim was to create a British style pasta salad, that pays homage to the simplicity of Tuscan cuisine. Seasonal eating and fresh vibrant foods turn the simplest of meals into perfection in Italy. I’ve made vegetables the backbone. I know it’s unusual to see cooked vegetables in a salad – particularly cooked spinach – but I find it works really well, and vibrant vegetables are at the very heart of Italian cuisine.
The garlic-sweated spinach turns into little flavour bombs scattered throughout the salad. This technique also means you can make use of tough older spinach, or whatever greens you have in your garden or the back of the fridge, in the true style of peasant cooking. I haven’t drenched this tuscan pasta salad in dressing or sauce as we tend to in Britain – the oil from the artichokes and the garlicky spinach juices are all the moisture you need.
So here’s how you make Tuscan Pasta Salad:
Chop the carrots into quarter slices as pictured – cutting lengthways then slicing all together saves time. Put the carrots and pasta on to boil.
While the pasta and carrots are cooking wilt the spinach and stir in the garlic puree. It looks like a lot of spinach, but it soon cooks down.
Snip the artichokes into a serving bowl, then add the cannellini beans, chopped tomatoes and spring onions.
Stir in the pasta, carrots and garlicky spinach and enjoy.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this why not try my halloumi salad with bulghur wheat?
A simple Tuscan style pasta salad where vegetables are the star - perfect for potluck, picnics and chilled summer dinners. Serves four as a side or light meal, or 2-3 as a generous dinner.
- 6 oz dry pasta
- 2 large carrots
- 1 tbsp garlic puree
- 12 cherry tomatoes
- 10 chunks artichoke antipasti in olive oil
- 1 bunch spring onions/scallions
- 1 14oz can cannellini beans
Peel the carrots and chop into quarter slices. Cook the carrots and dry pasta until both are tender.
While the carrots and pasta are cooking wash the spinach and place it in a frying pan or skillet, still damp. Cover the pan with a lid and let it sweat for around 5 minutes, or until tender. Add the garlic puree and stir it in for a minute on the heat. Switch off.
When the pasta and carrots are cooked drain them and rinse them in cold water, ready to add to the salad.
Chop the artichoke chunks with scissors, without draining or rinsing the oil off, and place in your salad bowl.
Quarter your cherry tomatoes and slice your spring onions/scallions and add them to the salad bowl.
Drain the cannellini beans and mix them into the salad bowl, along with the pasta, carrots and cooked spinach.