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Our Favorite Picnic Food: The Happier Pasta Salad

Favorite picnic food: Happier Pasta Salad recipe features tomatoes, mini mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes and toasted pine nuts.

The Happier Pasta Salad is the perfect picnic food because it’s full of flavor, refreshing, easy to make, nutritious, beautiful, and it doesn’t need to stay fridge-cold. It’ll fill you up without weighing you down!

This is the food that we make and take most often when we’re going on a longer hike, an afternoon by the river, a day on the boat or a sunset picnic. We haven’t found anything that beats our Happier Pasta Salad in flavor, convenience or nutrition.

The salad deservers our Happier stamp because it’s truly more than just a pasta salad. It features as many flavorful grape tomatoes as pasta (2 cups each) – and then some delicious sun-dried tomatoes in addition. The combination of fresh tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, toasted pine nuts and an olive oil-based vinaigrette reminds more of a caprese salad or a fancy Italian pesto dish.

With all the variety in textures and flavors, it’s amazing how quickly you can make the Happier Pasta Salad. The secret lies with the small ingredients that need hardly any prep. Of course these ingredients also make it beautiful enough to serve at the dinner table or feature in a photo of your #HappierPlace on Instagram or Google+. Just sayin’

Ergo, it meets all our “happier” requirements: better than average, easy/quick to make, convenient to take to the outdoors. And we’re pretty sure eating it will make you happier.

There are also quite a few health benefits in the Happier Pasta Salad because of the tomatoes, the olive oil, and even the pine nuts.

We think it’s especially ideal for a mid-hike picnic because the salad is perfect at room temperature (or even warm) and doesn’t have any ingredients that spoil easily in the heat, like mayonnaise. So you don’t need to drag along a cooler bag. And because it’s not a sandwich, it won’t get smashed in your bag either.

The Happier Pasta Salad: So easy to make, so delicious to eat. Click To Tweet

Prepare all the other ingredients while the pasta is cooking… and in about 20 minutes, you’ll have a light, delicious and nutritious salad to take on a nature outing. Yay and Yum!

Happier Pasta Salad Ingredients:

2 cups (150g) – short pasta (e.g., farfalle, fusilli, etc.)

1/4 cup (25g) – pine nuts

2 cups  (300g) – grape tomatoes

1 cup (100g) – mini mozzarella balls

1/3 cup (50g) – sun-dried tomatoes

1/4 cup (handful)  – fresh basil leaves

1/2 cup – olive oil-based vinaigrette (recipe for homemade vinaigrette* at bottom of post)

Happier Pasta Salad Recipe Steps:

  1. Cook pasta al dente in salty boiling water.
  2. Toast pine nuts in small skillet without oil over medium heat until brown spots appear (about 3 minutes). Stir occasionally to avoid burning.
  3. Cut grape tomatoes in half.
  4. Optional, depending on size and preference: cut mozzarella balls in half.
  5. Cut sun-dried tomatoes and basil into strips.
  6. Drain pasta. Cool pasta in pot filled with cool water. Drain again.
  7. Stir together all the ingredients, including the vinaigrette.

Happier Tips:

Make your own homemade vinaigrette – instead of using a store-bought dressing! Obviously, this will take a little bit of extra time and effort. But by making our own vinaigrette or other dressing you’ll be able to dial in the exact flavor of your dressing (via your choice of herbs) and dial down the amount of preservatives, sugar and sodium you’re eating.

One of the best things about this salad is that it doesn’t have to be served fridge-cold, like pasta salads with a mayonnaise-based dressing that could spoil if they get too warm. This salad tastes fantastic if it’s gotten a bit warm in your backpack. We actually recommend that if you had the pasta salad refrigerated, let it warm up to room temperature before serving – especially if you used a homemade vinaigrette (extra virgin olive oil tends to solidify in the fridge).

About the pine nuts: 1. Yes, you can eat pine nuts raw and skip the whole toasting step – but they’ll have a lot less flavor. 2. You can also toast pine nuts in an oven (375° F, 5 – 10 min) or in a toaster oven (325° F, 3 – 5 min). Both methods will brown them more evenly than toasting them in a skillet. However, turning on the oven for 1/4 cup of pine nuts seems silly AND you’ll constantly have to stick your hand into the oven to stir the pine nuts to keep them from burning. Last but not least, pine nuts are supposed to have numerous health benefits, like boosting energy and reducing risk of heart disease.

Want an even more nutritious Happier Pasta Salad? Use whole-grain pasta to get more protein, fiber and minerals.

Want a little desert after? Try out the Best Quick Cake for All Seasons and Occasions!

*Homemade Vinaigrette Recipe:

Combine the following ingredients by shaking them together in a tightly closed jar or bottle. This recipe makes 1/2 cup of vinaigrette. It keeps in the fridge for about a week. Bring to room temperature before using. For the pasta salad, we prefer to use parsley and oregano in dried form, since we already have fresh basil in the salad itself.

(tbsp = tablespoon. tsp = teaspoon. But you knew that, right?)

5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (EVOO if you like acronyms)

2 tbsp white wine vinegar (or red wine vinegar)

1 tsp shallot (or red onion), minced

1 tsp Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp dried herbs (parsley, oregano, dill, tarragon, chives, etc.) or 1 tsp fresh herbs

1/2 garlic clove, minced

1/4 tsp salt

1/8 tsp pepper

Please let us know if you have any questions about the recipe. We’d also love to hear if you tried this salad yourself and what you thought about it… and in what beautiful setting you had it. Of course, we’re also curious to know what your favorite picnic food is… just leave us a comment below…


2 thoughts on “Our Favorite Picnic Food: The Happier Pasta Salad

  1. Yum! Some of my favorite things. Going to have to make this for sure.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Lauri! Same here. I could live off cherry and grape tomatoes! But it’s the pine nuts that take this to a super scrumptious level in my opinion. I hope you do do try it – and let me know what you thought.
      xx Luci

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