Thursday, March 22, 2012

Foodbuzz Tastemaker: Van de Kamp's Parchment Bake Tilapia...and Zesty Caprese Pasta Salad

After a hectic day in the office, sometimes someone who loves to cook...and maybe even writes a food blog...just wants to chill out and take a little break from the kitchen. Too bad many fast food dinner alternatives can be unhealthy: pizza, takeout burgers, etc. Luckily, I was recently asked to sample new Van de Kamp’s Parchment Bake tilapia as part of the Foodbuzz Tastemakers Program. I received several coupons to try the fish and share my thoughts with you. Each box of Parchment Bake contains two individually packaged portions of tilapia and sauce sealed in a parchment packet. You simply place the packets in the oven to bake, and dinner’s done in just under 30 minutes.

Add a quick-cook side and whip up a simple green salad...and you’ve got a healthy meal in a matter of minutes! Even better: each serving of this fish has only 80 calories and 1 (NOT a typo!) gram of fat. Keep in mind that the portions are pretty small -- Michael needed two pieces of fish to feel full, but I was ok with one 3-ounce piece of fish and sides. We tried two flavors: Classic Grilled and Garlic Butter. Both were tasty, but I preferred the Classic Grilled. After steaming in the parchment pouch, the fish was moist and flaky, and the sauce had a spicy flavor that didn't overpower the delicate fish. I would keep a couple of boxes of Parchment Bake in my freezer for those nights when I want something quick and easy that tastes good...and is low in fat and calories. As a bonus, you can click here to get a buy-one-get-one-free coupon to try Parchment Bake yourself.

I served this fish with a simple green salad and leftover Zesty Caprese Pasta Salad that I made for my Feature Publisher Spring Menu earlier this week. As promised, I’m going to share the recipe for this flavorful pasta salad today. Since this pasta salad doesn’t contain a lot of ingredients, make sure that you buy the freshest tomatoes and the best-quality fresh mozzarella that you can! I bought flavorful marinated handmade mozzarella from the Central Market cheese shop, but you can easily use fresh mozzarella pearls or cut bocconcini into bite-sized pieces. My preferred pasta for the salad is orechiette, because the little cups cradle bite-size pieces of all the other goodies. To me, the key to this pasta salad is taking a few minutes to whip up the fabulous homemade shallot vinaigrette!

Zesty Caprese Pasta Salad
a Weekend Gourmet Original

Step 1: Cook 2 cups orichiette pasta in well-salted water according to package directions. While the pasta cooks, you have a pocket of time to prep the rest of the salad. First, make the vinaigrette by adding the following ingredients to a measuring cup: 1/4 cup fruity olive oil (this is the time to break out the good stuff!), 2 tbs. red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup water, the zest of one small lemon, 1 tbs. Dijon mustard, 1 grated garlic clove, 2 tbs. finely diced shallot, a generous pinch of red pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp. salt, and a few grinds black pepper (to taste). Whisk well and set aside while you prepare the rest of the salad.

Step 2:  Chop 6 ounces fresh mozzarella into bite-sized pieces. Then, roughly chop some small, sweet can use grape tomatoes, but I found a variety pack with several varieties of small tomatoes in a rainbow of colors. Since eye appeal is important, I used those. You’ll want about a cup of bite-sized pieces when you’re done chopping. Finally, roll 5-6 fresh basil leaves into a tight cigar-shape and slice into a chiffonade -- it’ll look like confetti when you’re done.

Step 3: Drain the cooked pasta in a colander and rinse well in cold water until cool. Drain the cooked orichiette very well so you don’t end up with soggy pasta salad...then dump the pasta into a large mixing bowl. Add the chopped tomatoes, diced mozzarella, and basil confetti to the pasta...then pour the shallot vinaigrette on top. Stir well to evenly combine all the ingredients and coat all of the salad with the dressing. Refrigerate for at least two hours before serving...up to 24 hours ahead. I think this pasta salad tastes better the longer it’s in the fridge, personally!

This is my go-to pasta salad during the warmer months! We love to eat it with grilled chicken or fish, but it’s also yummy with cooked shrimp mixed in as a main dish salad on warm evenings! The creamy mozzarella and sweet-tart tomatoes combine really nicely with the basil and vinaigrette. And about that amazing vinaigrette? It has a really nice kick, and the shallots give it a mild onion flavor. Sometimes I add a few toasted pine nuts to this salad if I have some on hand...and you can feel free to up the amount of basil if you really enjoy its flavor. However you make it, I know you’ll enjoy this delicious pasta salad!

Disclosure: I received coupons for free packages of Van de Kamp's Parchment Bake from Van de Kamp's as part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program. The opinions expressed in this post are mine.

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