By Jill L. Reed
The Orange County Register
Pasta salad with shrimp, tomatoes and cucumber is hearty enough to be a meal. And the dish, in a light lemon-buttermilk dressing, is the perfect addition to any on-the-go menu such as picnics, summer concerts or festival tailgating.
Lemon juice, grapeseed oil and buttermilk are the base of the dressing for this pasta salad. The tangy dressing also includes garlic, pepper and fresh dill.
Chopped cucumbers, red onion and tomatoes, plus cooked pasta, go in the bowl first.
Once the weather warms up, I crave dinners outside. Whether it is for a beach trip, a festival outing, a summer concert in the park or just dinner on the patio, dining alfresco makes me happy.
Last summer, when Ben was 2, he loved to have dinner in the backyard. We also went to a couple of outdoor events that included the chance to picnic beforehand, and he was a happy little eater at every turn.
But picnics, which seem sweet and simple when you see them in a movie or a photo, can get busy with too many bowls and dishes along with various other things. Remember, at the end of the day, you have to pack up all those empty containers back into the picnic basket or cooler and drag them back home to be washed.
I like to keep things simple, making one dish that appeals to all of us and is full of so many good things that we don’t need side dishes.
Pasta is, of course, hearty. And it is a nice blank canvas for the wonderful fresh produce of summer, making pasta salad an ideal one-dish picnic meal. I like to pack the salad with some sort of meat, always tomatoes and usually at least one other vegetable. As for the dressing, I like to take advantage of the fresh lemons from my tree and make a tangy concoction that also features fresh herbs and a bit of garlic.
In this case, since I was using shrimp in the salad, I thought dill would play nicely with the lemon. If I use chicken, which is a nice sub for shrimp in this, dill or basil would work well.
Most short pasta is a fine choice. I happen to like fusilli with all its nice curves to catch and hold the dressing. While I do not follow a gluten-free diet, I enjoy the healthier option of brown rice fusilli from Trader Joe’s for this dish.
The dressing has a little body from some low-fat buttermilk. This helps it cling to the pasta and veggies, coating everything with a nice sheen instead of sliding off and pooling in the bottom of the bowl.
When I make this, I like to cook the pasta the night before, giving it plenty of time to cool before adding the fresh ingredients. The shrimp adds a nice sweetness that complements the tang of the lemon and buttermilk. There are nice textural changes, too. A little crunch from the cucumber, the slight chewiness of al dente pasta, the tenderness of the shrimp and the cool juiciness of the tomatoes.
All these things happen to appeal to Ben, now 3, who likes to sample and do quality control on the tomatoes and cucumbers as I am prepping ingredients.
Even if we are not taking this dish on a picnic, when I make it, somehow things just feel more and more like summer.
PICNIC-PERFECT PASTA SALAD
Start to finish: 20 minutes
1/2 pound uncooked pasta like fusilli, penne or bow-tie
1 clove garlic, finely minced or crushed
3 tablespoons grapeseed or olive oil
6 tablespoons low-fat buttermilk
3 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cucumber, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
12 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
1 small shallot, diced
1/2 pound cooked medium or large shrimp, shells and tails removed
Extra lemon wedges for garnish
Cook pasta according to package directions, drain, cool and set aside.
In a jar with a lid or in a small bowl, combine garlic, oil, buttermilk, dill and lemon juice. Shake or whisk to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Put pasta in a large bowl, add in cucumber, tomatoes, shallots and shrimp and pour dressing over the top. Toss lightly to combine ingredients and coat with dressing.
Serve with extra lemon wedges.
Cook’s note: Diced cooked chicken breast is a nice alternative to shrimp in this salad.