Make this the year that you elevate your July Fourth pasta salad. By which we mean, avoid the temptation to simply dump a bottle of vinaigrette over cooked pasta and a bag of frozen peas and call it a day. Because turning out a far better pasta salad isn’t particularly difficult. And the results are so worth the (very little) extra effort.
For our improved pasta salad, we kept the Italian inspiration, but ditched the bottle of salad dressing. Instead, we borrowed the flavors and ingredients of a classic Florentine pasta — spinach, Parmesan and tomatoes — and repackaged them in a cool, refreshing salad.
There’s no mayonnaise in this pasta salad. The cloying sweetness wouldn’t sit right with the other ingredients. Instead, we went with the savory, smooth flavor of whole-milk ricotta cheese, which complements the peppery bite of the fresh basil and the tang of the balsamic glaze.
FLORENTINE PASTA SALAD
Start to finish: 30 minutes
1 pound fresh small pasta
1 1/2 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
16-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain the pasta, then spread on a rimmed baking sheet. While tossing lightly, sprinkle the pasta with just enough olive oil to prevent from sticking. Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, in a food processor combine the ricotta, garlic and basil. Process until the basil is well chopped and the ricotta is smooth. Season with a hefty pinch each of salt and pepper.
Drain the spinach in a mesh strainer, pressing to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta mixture, spinach and cooled pasta. Spoon into a serving dish and top with the tomatoes and Parmesan. Drizzle with balsamic glaze.
Nutrition information per serving: 280 calories; 60 calories from fat (21 percent of total calories); 7 g fat (4 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 20 mg cholesterol; 240 mg sodium; 39 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 13 g protein.