For our improved pasta salad, we kept the Italian inspiration, but ditched the bottle of salad dressing. Instead, we borrowed the flavours and ingredients of a classic Florentine pasta — spinach, Parmesan and tomatoes — and repackaged them in a cool, refreshing salad.
There's no mayonnaise in this pasta salad. The cloying sweetness wouldn't sit right with the other ingredients. Instead, we went with the savory, smooth flavour of whole-milk ricotta cheese, which complements the peppery bite of the fresh basil and the tang of the balsamic glaze.
FLORENTINE PASTA SALAD
Start to finish: 30 minutes
1 pound fresh small pasta
1 1/2 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
16-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain the pasta, then spread on a rimmed baking sheet. While tossing lightly, sprinkle the pasta with just enough olive oil to prevent from sticking. Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, in a food processor combine the ricotta, garlic and basil. Process until the basil is well chopped and the ricotta is smooth. Season with a hefty pinch each of salt and pepper.
Drain the spinach in a mesh strainer, pressing to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta mixture, spinach and cooled pasta. Spoon into a serving dish and top with the tomatoes and Parmesan. Drizzle with balsamic glaze.
Nutrition information per serving: 280 calories; 60 calories from fat (21 per cent of total calories); 7 g fat (4 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 20 mg cholesterol; 240 mg sodium; 39 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 13 g protein.