One of the biggest testaments to the idea that food preferences can change over time is my hate/love relationship with tomatoes. For years I really, really disliked raw tomatoes. Sure, I could sing their praises in a velvety pasta sauce, and ketchup had to rank among one of my favorite condiments, but raw tomatoes? Blech.
But. Tomatoes are good for you, full of antioxidants like lycopene, and they look so darn pretty – blushing and smooth-skinned, like pre-teens with a crush. So over the years I’ve tried to eat them more and more. They’re delicious slightly cooked in a panini, but the first time I realized I actually craved them raw was in a restaurant in Tempe, Arizona.
I was traveling for business and while it would have been easy to fall into the trap of eating at the Denny’s restaurant that beamed at me across the street from my hotel, I made it a goal to find a non-chain restaurant. I settled on a wine and pizza bar and though the restaurant was an extra 10 minutes away, it was worth the drive. I ordered spaghetti bolognese and it came with a Caesar salad. Normally I ask for dressing on the side, but I forgot and the bowl of lettuce came to me swimming in dressing.
I persevered and ate some of the lettuce and then, there among the wilted leaves I finally approached the ruby gems of cherry tomatoes. What a sweet relief from salty lettuce they were! I gobbled up the rest of the tomatoes and have changed my attitude about them ever since.
In this pesto pasta salad, the tomatoes have nearly the same function that they did in that Caesar salad. They bring a sweet, cool balance to the warm, salty pesto and creamy mozzarella cheese. This pasta salad comes together in a pinch, especially if you use store-bought pesto, as I did here. Homemade pesto is delicious, and I’ll share a recipe next time I make it, but the store-bought kind does just fine.
2 cups cooked shell pasta (I used whole grain here)
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese (I like the fresh pieces packed in water)
2 handfuls spinach leaves, chopped
2 rounded Tablespoons basil pesto
- While your pasta is still warm, mix in 2 Tablespoons basil pesto. The heat will help distribute the pesto evenly. If you want more pesto, go for it.
- Mix in the remaining ingredients.
I like recipes that can be easily modified to suit your tastes. This one can have more or less vegetables, depending on your mood. Here I was trying to fit in a lot of veggies, hoping to hit my New Year’s goal of eating vegetables at two meals a day. This would be delicious with some roasted red peppers as well, and I even bought a pepper for the task but then forgot I had it. Oh, the best-laid plans!