Mediterranean Pasta Salad

What is the secret to longevity and vitality…you know, the foundation that the longest living people on earth know about and mainstream American doesn’t? It’s a well known fact that people who live a simple life eating fish and vegetables they grow themselves seem to live the longest, while disease like cancer and heart disease continue to be the leading causes of death in the U.S. In a New York Times article “The Island Where People Forget To Die” the author talks about the Greeks who frequently live to be over a hundred. What can we learn from the people of Ikaria about how to live long and balanced lives? For starters, it’s not the “Mediterranean diet” that most Americans think of (i.e.: cured meats and greens slathered in oil.) It’s the fresh, locally grown fruit and vegetables, and the fact that they consume far less meat and animal products and refined sugars as Americans do. Not to mention, they live with less stress and more meditation and sleep.

What if there were something we could all do to prevent, control and possibly even reverse disease? Would we do it? Why are we spending billions of dollars a year on cancer awareness fundraisers that serve funnel cakes, soda and cotton candy? All we really need to do is get back to basics.

I think a lot has to do with perspective. I’m a rule follower, and lucky for me, so are my children. They typically know when it’s okay to break away from the norm and be creative and when it’s best to follow the rules. One of my rules is that no matter what else is on your plate, eat more vegetables. I hope my kids will thank me one day, but what about the other lives we touch in the process? I don’t always realize how many families I actually speak to when I write this column, but luckily I have some friends who remind me now and then.

I’d like to introduce you to my friend Zac. He’s the last person on earth that I would have thought would read my column about plant-based eating, but I found out this summer that he loves my recipes and so does his family! Hearing feedback like that is what keeps me inspired to create more healthy recipes; by doing so I’m able to reach more people far and wide that are on a personal journey toward wellness. Whether you’re just getting started or you’ve been vegan for a decade, just a few simple strategies to keep your family engaged in health and wellness will add up over time and increase your chances of living a longer, healthier life.

It’s no secret that eating more whole, plant-based foods will help increase longevity and vitality. I think the hardest part to overcome is the time it takes to plan and prepare meals. I can recall watching commercials as a kid that promoted the working mother and tv dinners. As a society, we’ve come so far since then with much of the focus of modern families who focus on exercise and avoiding additives and preservatives in our food system. In today’s column, I’m sharing a very easy and quick pasta salad that can be made in about 15 minutes (I even tested this one out on Zac’s family this summer when we attended their annual fireworks party). It’s a great way to add in extra veggies to a recipe instead of extra sugar and salt without sacrificing flavor or time. We’re all busy, and the middle of August means fall sports are gearing up and star-spangled summer vacations are coming to an end. Set aside some time on a Sunday to prep for the week and you’ll be happy you added this easy and versatile salad to your menu.

1 lb of fusilli pasta, cooked according to package directions
1 bunch of asparagus, cleaned, ends chopped off, and cooked until aldente (about 7 minutes in a bowl of water in the microwave)
2 cups of pitted kalamata olives
1 jar of sun-dried tomatoes (I drain the oil and pat dry before adding)
1 pint of crumbled feta cheese
1/2 pint of pesto

Homemade Pesto
The most traditional recipe calls for sweet basil leaves, toasted pinoli (pine nuts), fresh garlic, and reggiano parmesan together with a sprinkle of good, first-pressed olive oil. The proportions are 4 to 1 with fresh basil being the full portion and each of the others being one quarter. Add salt and pepper to taste after processing all ingredients together in your food processor.

Note: If you don’t have time to make the pesto, buy some at Russos.

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