Smoked Mozzarella Pasta Salad
This salad looks unassuming but it’s a flavor powerhouse. The best part–it comes together so quickly!
Before the pandemic my weekly routine included frequent visits to Whole Foods Market. Even though it meant a larger crowd, I always timed my visits around lunchtime for a hodge-podge lunch from their salad and hot food bar.
From those regular lunchtime visits this smoked mozzarella pasta salad entered into my life, becoming an instant favorite. A creamy, zesty dressing made with Parmesan cheese and herbs tossed in pasta, roasted red peppers, spinach and smoked mozzarella. The last ingredient is the star, hands down, giving the salad depth and balance, considering how simple the other ingredients are.The problem? This salad is not part of the market’s regular rotation so I’d come to regard it as a special treat when it showed up at the salad bar every few months.
After a two-year hiatus I’ve recently resumed my grocery shopping/solo lunches at Whole Foods. What a delight it was to see my favorite salad at the bar only to be disappointed by how much the quality had declined over the years. The salad was mostly pasta and mayonnaise, seriously short of the components that make the salad such a winner, but no problem. The recipe is widely available online (it was originally published in the company’s cookbook) so I decided to make it at home.
With the freedom to adjust the recipe to suit our tastes, I’ve lightened up the dressing by using yogurt in place of half the mayonnaise and used less vinegar to allow the other ingredients to shine. We also prefer a higher greens to pasta ratio so I used more spinach and omitted the final sprinkling of Parmesan cheese simply because it’s already quite flavorful without it.
This salad is such a winner that it’s worth doubling the recipe. It’s ideal for a summer gathering because it comes together quickly and would cater to different tastes. I love that I no longer have to wait every few months to enjoy it and it’s already garnered some fans in my circle (husband and friends) so hurray for more reasons to make it. But whatever you do, don’t skimp on the smoked mozzarella. It’s everything.
Smoked Mozzarella Pasta Salad
This salad looks unassuming but it's a flavor powerhouse. The best part–it comes together so quickly!
Dressing Ingredients (See Note)
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup Greek yogurt (I use 2% plain)
- 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1/4 – 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup Italian parsley, roughly chopped, largest stems removed
- 2 cloves garlic
- Dash or two cayenne pepper
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1/2 pound penne pasta
- 2-3 cups baby spinach (I like to julienne them)
- 2 roasted red bell peppers from a jar, chopped
- 1/2 pound smoked mozzarella cheese, diced
- more grated parmesan cheese (optional)
Prepare the Pasta: Boil the penne pasta and drain. Set aside.
Prepare the Dressing: In a food processor or blender, combine the mayonnaise, yogurt, vinegar, parsley, parmesan cheese, garlic cloves and cayenne pepper. Blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Prepare the Salad: Cut the red bell peppers in a small dice and the smoked mozzarella in small cubes. The baby spinach can be left as is but I like to roughly chiffonade the spinach so they're in strips for easier tossing. Toss the ingredients in a large bowl, followed by the dressing. Add the dressing in increments until the salad is dressed according to your preference. I find that I usually have extra and don't need it all but it keeps well for a few days. Toss the salad with more grated Parmesan cheese if you wish but for me, the salad is plenty flavorful without it.
Salad Dressing: The original Whole Foods recipe calls for all mayonnaise (instead of yogurt) and 1/4 cup vinegar. I’ve adjusted the recipe to suit our taste.