My friend Mary is smart, funny and kind.  She solo parents her twin toddlers five days a week while her husband works in another city, so by Thursday evenings she is also stir crazy and a bit desperate.  A few weeks ago the “great potty training fiasco” put her over the edge, and she lured four mothers to her house with the promise of mango margaritas and pasta salad after she put the girls to bed.  I thought this a strange entertaining combination, but equally in need of adult company, I called grandma to babysit and fled my own toddler twins.  The pasta salad turned out to be an inspired choice.  Made with fruit instead of the traditional vegetables, it was sweet, healthy, and filling.  Best of all, it was one of her girls’ favorite dishes.

Before we left that evening, Mary said she felt like she deserved a blue ribbon for potty training two toddlers by herself.  I agree.  Here’s to all parents who survive this toddler rite of passage, and here’s Mary’s Blue Ribbon Pasta Salad.  I made it with apples, strawberries and oranges, and I modified the dressing (Mary uses the time-saving method of dousing the pasta with commercial Italian dressing until “it seems like you’ve got enough”).  My boys wolfed this down!

Fruit and Pasta Salad

Ingredients:

8 ounces whole wheat pasta (bow-ties work well)
1 ½ cups chopped fruit (any combination of apples, strawberries, pears etc.)
2 ounces mozzarella, shredded (½ cup)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
A pinch of salt
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon oregano

Directions:

Cook the pasta according to the package directions.  Rinse the pasta in cold water and put in a serving bowl.  Add the rest of the ingredients and toss.  Chill for at least one hour before serving.

Yeild: 4 adult servings

 Time Savers:  Cool cooked pasta in an ice bath before tossing with other ingredients to reduce chill time (a five minute ice bath should reduce chilling time to 15 minutes).  You may also substitute commercial Italian dressing for the vinegar, oil and herbs.  Sundried tomato pesto vinaigrette is especially good.  Pour in enough dressing to coat the pasta sparingly and add more when serving if needed.

Picky Eater Pleaser:  Reserve a portion of plain noodles, fruit, and cheese.  Serve in a toddler separator plate with a small dish of dressing to use as a dip.

Get the Kids to Help:  Set your kids up at the table with a cutting board and a plastic knife and let them cut the fruit into bite-size pieces.  Anticipate at least half will go into their mouths instead of the bowl (a good snack time activity!)  Kids can also pour in the dressing, add the cheese, and toss the salad (not literally, I hope).

Menu Planner:  This salad pairs well with cottage cheese for a light lunch or with grilled burgers and asparagus for a simple supper.

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