The one pasta salad you must make this summer

It's summer, and my grill has been getting quite a workout this season. We've been grilling everything from jalapeno cheeseburgers to margarita pizza to fresh peaches over ice cream. There is literally nothing I won't grill, but my grill obsession can become too much at times. Eating burgers, pizza, and ice cream every night is not how I (or my body) want to live. The solution? Grilled summer vegetable pasta salad!

This light and savory pasta salad combines the delicious taste of the grill with fresh foods your body loves. It's also incredibly quick with no marinating needed! So fire up the grill and load up on your veggies. Eating healthy never looked so good!

Gather your ingredients

Start by gathering all of your ingredients. This recipe is incredibly versatile, so feel free to make substitutions based on your and your family's preferences. You'll need one box of penne pasta and a boatload of fresh veggies. I used asparagus, red bell pepper, summer squash, zucchini, onion, and cherry tomatoes. You'll then want to fire up the grill. 

Set your outdoor grill to high heat. Once we're ready to use it, we'll lower the heat to medium. It's best to take a moment to brush off any residue from the grill before adding new food to it. This just takes a moment and will help make your food tastier. It'll also prevent it from charring too soon.

A full list of ingredients and step-by-step instructions can be found at the end of this article.

Prep the asparagus

First, prepare your bunch of asparagus. This vegetable is my favorite of the entire dish, so don't leave it out! It really soaks up the flavor of the dressing and truly falls apart in your mouth.

Start by trimming the tough ends with a sharp knife. Then chop the stalks into four or five pieces, about one to one-and-one-half inches in length.

Core and slice the bell pepper

Next chop the red bell pepper. I chose red for its sweeter flavor and beautiful color, but if you have another color bell pepper at home, such as orange or yellow, you could substitute. You won't notice a difference in the overall taste of the dish. 

Working around the pepper, slice off the outside ends, leaving the seeds intact. Discard the core, stem, and seeds. Chop your bell pepper into large pieces, about one inch in size.

Cut the squash

Next, choose a small to medium yellow summer squash. Cut off both ends with a sharp knife and then cut the squash in half lengthwise. Then start chopping the squash into one-inch pieces and set aside. 

Cut the zucchini

We'll cut the zucchini with the same technique as the summer squash. Trim both ends, then cut in half lengthwise. Chop both halves into one-inch pieces. You'll want to choose a smaller zucchini so that all of the pieces cook evenly.

Dice the onion

Next dice your onion. When grilled, the onion takes on this sweet, smokey flavor, so you truly cannot have too much of it. Trim the end off and chop into one-inch pieces. I chose a red onion for this recipe, but any variety will do.

Halve the tomatoes

Rinse and then pour your cup of cherry tomatoes onto the cutting board and halve each one width-wise. I try to cut two or three at a time to speed things up, but be careful as they could be a little slippery after rinsing. 

Transfer the veggies

Once you've prepped all of your vegetables, pour them into a large bowl or pot. You'll want some extra room so you are able to stir them without overflow. Make sure they only take up about half of the bowl. Mix with a large spoon until combined.

Add the flavor

Once you've mixed up your veggies, drizzle the mixture with a swirl of olive oil, about two tablespoons, then sprinkle a half teaspoon of garlic salt, half teaspoon of oregano, and half teaspoon of cumin. Toss to combine, making sure every piece is coated with olive oil. If anything appears dry, drizzle another swirl of oil. We want the veggies to come off the grill moist and tender, so don't be shy with the olive oil.

Transfer to the grill

Grab your bowl of veggies, a grill-safe basket, and a large spoon and head outside. Place the basket over the grill flames and spoon the marinated veggies into the basket. Be careful as the oil gets hot. Reduce the grill heat to medium and close the grill cover. 

Cook the veggies until they're tender and juicy, about 15 minutes. Open the grill to check and stir every few minutes. This will keep them cooking evenly and prevent burning and charring. 

Bring water to a boil

While your vegetables are grilling, it's a great time to make the penne pasta. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and pour in a sprinkle of kosher salt. A restaurant chef once told me that your pasta water should be like the sea, so go crazy with that salt shaker! Once the water is boiling, pour in your box of pasta and cook according to the package instructions. I used regular penne, but you could also try whole wheat or gluten-free varieties. 

Cook the pasta

Once the pasta is cooked and al dente, tender but still a little firm, drain the pasta water and allow the pasta to cool for a few minutes. It can still be warm when you mix your pasta salad together, but should no longer be steaming.

Remove the veggies from heat

Once your veggies are cooked through and tender with just a touch of charred edges, it's time to take them off the grill. Turn off your grill's heat and, using oven mitts, very carefully lift the grill basket off the grill and pour the cooked veggies into a large bowl. Scrape any bits stuck to the basket into the bowl as well. 

You'll probably want to soak your grill basket in the sink to make cleanup easier. 

Add the pasta

Once your pasta and vegetables have had a minute or two to cool, pour the cooked pasta into the vegetable mixture and stir to combine. Add a swirl of olive oil, one to two tablespoons balsamic vinegar, half teaspoon garlic salt, half teaspoon oregano, and half teaspoon cumin. Sprinkle in a cup of shredded Parmesan cheese and stir to combine. The cheese should melt and help the pasta salad stick together. If you prefer your pasta salad warm, serve immediately. Hello melty cheese! Otherwise, place the bowl in the refrigerator and serve chilled. This pasta salad keeps well, so feel free to make it ahead of time. 

Directions

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Servings: 8

Ingredients:

  • Extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 pound uncooked penne pasta

  • 1 bunch asparagus

  • 1 red bell pepper

  • 1 summer squash

  • 1 small zucchini

  • ½ large onion

  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes

  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt, divided

  • 1 teaspoon oregano, divided

  • 1 teaspoon cumin, divided

  • 1 – 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat an outdoor grill to high heat.

  2. To prepare the vegetables, start by trimming the asparagus, then cutting into 1-inch pieces.

  3. Core and slice the red bell pepper into 1-inch pieces.

  4. Slice the summer squash in half lengthwise, then chop. Cut the zucchini the same way.

  5. Dice the onion into large pieces. Halve the cherry tomatoes.

  6. Place all of the chopped vegetables into a large bowl and mix together. Drizzle with olive oil, ½ teaspoon garlic salt, ½ teaspoon oregano, and ½ teaspoon cumin. Toss to coat.

  7. Transfer the prepared vegetables to a grill-safe container and lower the grill heat to medium. Place the veggies over the heat and close the grill lid. Cook the veggies until they are tender, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  8. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Sprinkle with sea salt. Once the water is boiling, add the uncooked pasta and cook according to package directions.

  9. Once the vegetables are cooked, remove them from heat and allow the grill to cool. Drain the pasta water and allow the pasta to cool slightly.

  10. Pour the cooked veggies into the pasta pot and toss to combine. Drizzle olive oil, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, ½ teaspoon garlic salt, ½ teaspoon oregano, and ½ teaspoon cumin. Stir to combine.

  11. Stir in the shredded Parmesan cheese and allow to cool. Serve immediately or place in the refrigerator.