This recipe was inspired by a salad called the Spensa at Saladworks, a regional cafeteria-style restaurant chain specializing in fresh salads made to order.
The Spensa featured a pasta base with diced turkey, sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, and walnuts. Since I am a vegetarian, they graciously allowed me to substitute chickpeas for the turkey. And I always opted for the Balsamic Vinaigrette as my dressing for this salad, which complemented the other ingredients perfectly.
The Spensa is no longer on their menu (although their custom salad options keep it always a possibility).
So I decided to create my own version, which remains my favorite pasta salad. Here it is.
8 ounces dried rotini, or other short spiral pasta
1/2 cup canned chickpeas, drained
4 or 6 white or brown (crimini) mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup black olives, pitted and sliced
1/4 cup walnut pieces
3 tablespoons oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and julienned
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar*
1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves, shredded or coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and then run under cold water to stop the cooking. Drain again.
In a large bowl, combine the pasta with the chickpeas, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and walnuts.
In a smaller bowl, whisk together the olive oil and balsamic vinegar until blended, and then whisk in the basil, salt, and pepper.
Pour the dressing over the pasta mixture, and gently toss until all salad ingredients are coated with the dressing.
Refrigerate if not using immediately. Serve at room temperature or lightly chilled.
-- 4-6 servings
* Note: I like to use white balsamic vinegar in pasta salads, because the more common dark version will turn the pasta brown, which some people find unappealing. But if you don’t mind the color, the dark balsamic vinegar works fine in this recipe as well.