Remember how even though I work from home, I still “pack my lunch” for the following day, using fridge salad kits? The options for these kits are really endless, and today I’m drawing inspiration from the most popular pasta salad in all the land. I used to work at the gourmet prepared foods counter of a local grocery store, and they had this pasta salad made with gemelli pasta (a twisted shape sort of similar to rotini) that people would order by the pound…or more.
Before I worked at this store, I loved that pasta salad, too. But once I became an employee, I got a behind-the-scenes look at how it was made, and learned it involved something called “heavy duty mayonnaise.” Yes, that’s a real thing. Yes, it’s just as horrifying as it sounds. I don’t know when the mayonnaise industry started using the same terminology as hardware stores, but it scared me enough to inspire me to go home and create a salad kit version free of any heavy-duty ingredients.
For starters, I made the pasta salad version of my kit with a combination of (regular!) mayonnaise and Greek yogurt, flavored up with lots of bright lemon juice and zest. To further move this salad away from heavy-duty status, I serve the lemon pasta salad over a big bed of spinach. Once you finish it off with some sundried tomatoes, Parmesan cheese and pistachios, all you need to do is stir everything up in your bowl for a lightly-dressed and flavorful lunch.
I like to do this salad as a fridge salad kit, because the spinach stays fresher (and the pistachios more crunchy) when everything is combined the night before or morning of, rather than days in advance. I just keep all of the prepped ingredients in separate containers on a sheet pan in the fridge, and when it comes time to make lunch, scoop a little of each item into my bowl.
Even though this salad might be a little lightened-up from the original inspiration, it still has enough staying power to get you through the afternoon, thanks to the yogurt-based dressing and cheese. Cheese and yogurt are made with milk produced by Michigan’s hardworking dairy farm families, and they’re both excellent sources of protein! Not only that, but Michigan’s dairy industry contributes $14.7 billion to the state’s economy every year, so buying local dairy is a great way to support the state I’m proud to call home.
For the Lemon Pasta Salad:
- 8 ounces gemelli pasta
- Juice of 1 small lemon
- 5 tablespoons Greek yogurt
- 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1-1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- Pinch of salt and pepper
For the Salads:
- 1 package (5 ounces) baby spinach
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced sundried tomatoes
- 6 tablespoons shaved Parmesan cheese
- 6 tablespoons shelled pistachios
- Make the Lemon Pasta Salad: Cook gemelli according to package instructions; drain. Rinse pasta with cold water; drain.
- Meanwhile, in medium bowl, stir together lemon juice, yogurt, mayonnaise, Dijon, lemon zest, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Add pasta; stir until well combined.
- Prep all salad ingredients and place in covered containers on rimmed baking pan, along with Lemon Pasta Salad; refrigerate. Use salad kit to prep lunches as needed throughout the week.
The folks at Milk Means More made a fun little video of this recipe! Check it out here:
Disclosure: This post is part of an ongoing relationship I have with The United Dairy Industry of Michigan for recipe development. Posts like this help me pay for the costs associated with this blog (groceries…lots of groceries), and help support me as I pursue a career in recipe development and food photography. All opinions are 100% my own.