Picnic Ready

As spring brings more and more weather that is downright summerish, my menus get tinged with a picnic flair or at least I get eager to eat all of my meals outside. Whether it's on my patio or a picnic blanket in the park, I'm in the mood to make every meal al fresco. And what speaks to that goal more than a creamy pasta salad:

Now, instead of spending a bunch of time working on picnic fare and limiting the actual time spent outdoors, I tend to focus on items that can either be made outside (think grilling or tableside salads) or put together in short order, like this pasta salad. Grab about a half a box of your favorite short pasta (I tend to have penne on hand most of the time, but really love shapes like farfalle or radiatori), some frozen peas, some shredded carrot (you can even skip this if you are pressed for time, but I do love the color it brings to the dish), some ranch dressing, and a bit of grated parmesan cheese and you are good to go.

You can prepare the carrot while the noodles cook or prep some sandwiches or toss some chicken on the grill. If you wanted to make it even simpler, look for a cheesy ranch dressing variety and you could skip the separate parmesan cheese. If you wanted to mix it up a bit, add some chopped sweet pepper or some halved grape tomatoes. You could even make it a heartier offering with some cooked, crumbled bacon. This is definitely one of those "make it yours" dishes.

This pasta salad loves to play second fiddle to all number of sandwiches (warm or cold), burgers, brats, hot dogs, grilled chicken, pork, steaks, and even salmon. For me, it's a go-to dish when I'll be entertaining outdoors, whether at home or at my favorite park. Wherever you enjoy it, I hope it helps make your meal sing a little more.

Easy Peasy Pasta Salad

  • ½ lb. short noodles – any shape, cooked al dente per box instructions
  • 1 medium carrot – shredded
  • ½ cup frozen baby peas
  • 1 cup prepared ranch dressing - choose your favorite variety
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions – drain and set aside to cool. Any pasta is fine – shells, macaroni or penne work great. Once cool, grate the carrot and add to the pasta. Add the peas to the pasta as well as the onion and parmesan cheese. In a separate bowl, mix dressing mix and mayo together with a whisk. Whisking vigorously, pour the milk into the mayo little by little, whisking until well combined and creamy. Pour the dressing mix over the pasta and mix well with a large spoon. Salt and pepper to taste. Cool in fridge for an hour before serving. If taking to an outdoor event – keep cool until ready to serve and place any leftovers immediately in the fridge.

  • Yields: About 6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes