Creamy Lemon Pasta Salad with Spinach
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 I also use for crockpot soup) 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 (also love these in vegetarian quiche), 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 more information on The United Dairy Industry of Michigan and to find out why Milk Means More, visit their website and connect with them on Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube and Twitter.
Creamy Lemon Pasta Salad with Spinach
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.
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.
Just curious what grocery store chain carries this side dish that everyone is familiar with. Is it a national or regional chain?
Hi Mary – it’s not a chain, it’s actually just one independent grocery store. Holiday Market in Royal Oak, MI 🙂
Aha. Well I’m in North Carolina, so guess I will have to make your recipe and trust it’s as good as the original. 🙂
Great idea for a recipe!! and of course being in Wisconsin, must happily support the great cheese industry HERE! (Michigan cheese too, if ours gets sold out, LOL)
Thanks so much, Dee. I love Wisconsin cheese, too! Neighboring states have to support each other, right? 🙂
Haha, thanks Susan!
Boom! You were fooled!
Ohhhhhh gross. I feel like everybody has a mayo horror story! haha.
I love what you said about heavy duty mayonnaise. Even my mayonnaise-loving husband (as in mayonnaise is one of the major food groups) thought it was funny. And the salad sounds very interesting, worth a try.
For those of you that don’t know, the grocery store pasta salad Lori gets is one of the tastiest sides ever. And I thought that is what I was eating the other night when we had dinner. I had no idea Lori made it herself. She did the original more than justice – it was fantastic and a healthier version. She completely pulled a fast one on me … But in a good way.
Loving the creamy AND lemon of this- screams summer! Sooooo good!
“Heavy duty mayo”?! That sounds terrifying! What the hell is in it that makes it “heavy duty”?! Never mind, i don’t want to know. I actually never have mayo in my house because we never use it/eat it, etc. I wouldn’t mind buying a teeny tiny jar so that I can make this pasta salad. I took a Foods class in grade 12 and we were responsible for making the cafeteria food for lunch. I remember a guy in my class was making filling for some kind of sandwich (either chicken salad or tuna salad) and he was just dumping in huge gobs of mayo with no thought to the actual recipe, laughing all the while. I was pretty grossed out. Thanks for bringing back that memory, girl 😉
Haha right? It’s terrifying to even think about heavy-duty mayo. UGH.
Thanks so much, Julie! My husband and I just ate these salads for dinner tonight, and I totally fooled him! He thought my version was bought from the grocery store. And since that version is so well-loved, I take that as a compliment 🙂
“Heavy duty mayo”??? Yikes! Of course I have an aversion to regular mayo (& whipped cream, it’s a texture thing:). This salad my friend is my perfect summer salad!
Another healthy, light and tasty salad creation from Lori! I love every bit of ingredient in this recipe. Thank you for sharing!