The intrepid foodies here at Eat Healthy were recently roped into making the food for an extended family gathering. We needed to come up with a salad recipe that was healthy (of course), easy to make (naturally) and festive (as is our nature). We considered quite a variety of traditional salads, and eventually narrowed our decision down to two possibles: broccoli salad, and tortellini salad. And then brilliance struck: why not combine the two into one fun, refreshing dish? And so our Easy, Breezy Broccoli and Tortellini Salad was born.
This is a relaxed, casual, down-to-earth salad, perfect for informal summer meals. The big, friendly chunks of fresh broccoli provide the perfect texture and taste counterpoint to the cheesy tortellini coils, and generous amounts of onion and green pepper bring a cool crunch to the party. Ripe red tomatoes sprinkle sparks of tang into the mix, and dark red kidney beans dot the salad with a mellow, hearty warmth, their mild flavor harmonizing perfectly with the other ingredients. A few handfuls of loosely torn, forest green Italian parsley top it all off, their fanning leaves clinging to every forkful and lending a fresh earthiness to every bite. A diverse band of textures and flavors to be sure, but they come together beautifully when tossed together in close proximity. If only we could always say the same for family.
Part of what makes this salad such a roaring success on all fronts – taste, ease of preparation, and healthiness – is the dressing. We used a very inexpensive fat-free Italian dressing, which has only 10 calories per two tablespoons. It’s got a powerful zestiness about it, which is more than strong enough to lend flavor to all the ingredients without overpowering them. Using a prepared dressing really makes whipping up a large, mixed salad like this a breeze – fewer ingredients equals less cooking fuss. We added some depth of flavor by sprinkling our salad pretty liberally with budget Parmesan cheese before tossing. At only 20 calories per tablespoon, you can be pretty liberal with Parmesan, making it our favorite cheese of all time. Plus, it has an awesomely mellow, tangy flavor which goes well with lots of dishes.
Another thing we really like about this recipe is that it can be made a day ahead. If you do decide to make this in advance, it’s a good idea to leave the tomatoes out until shortly before you plan to serve – say, throw them in that morning for serving at lunch. Everything else will keep very nicely overnight, and the flavors will get even better. This is a very large salad, so it’s great for family gatherings, picnics, potlucks, and anywhere else you need to serve a crowd and have plenty of food to go around. However, if you’re thinking of making this for yourself or just a few people, certainly cut the recipe in half. It does keep well in the fridge, tightly covered, for about three days. The large salad recipe, as shown below, yields about 16 one cup, 120 calorie servings. Your calorie buck not only gets you a lot of flavor in this recipe, but also a good deal of fiber and vitamin-rich veggies. Huzzah!
Easy, Breezy Broccoli and Tortellini Salad
yields about 16 one cup, 120 calorie servings
1 pound fresh broccoli, chopped into bite-sized florets
1 16 – 19 oz. bag frozen cheese tortellini, cooked according to package directions
1 15 oz. can dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 medium red or yellow onion, sliced
1 medium green pepper, sliced
2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
half a bunch of Italian parsley, loosely torn
half a 16 oz. bottle fat-free Italian dressing
garlic powder to taste (optional)
red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
Place the broccoli florets in a large pot, and cover them with water. Bring them to a simmer over medium heat for about five minutes, or until they’re tender-crisp. Remove them from the heat, drain, and rinse them in cold water. Dump them back into the pot, and cover them with very cold water. Let them sit in the water until they’re cool, then drain again.
Combine the broccoli, tortellini, beans, onion, pepper, tomato and parsley in a large mixing bowl. Douse the vegetables with the dressing, spices, and Parmesan, and toss to combine. Let the salad marinate in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving, or even better, overnight if possible.
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