Pasta salad with cauliflower, broccoli and mustard vinaigrette

I flatter myself that through introducing my kids to very fresh seasonal produce from an early age (my son was just 1 year old when we took on our first allotment 8 years ago) I instilled in them appreciation and love of fresh vegetables. They love raw carrots and mange-tout, and devour corn and artichokes. Still, some of their food cravings are no different from most of their classmates. They like French fries. They like pizza. They want pasta at least once a week.

I believe that denying children “unhealthy” food altogether, is not the best way to go. You know what they say about forbidden fruits, don’t you? So I compromise, make pizza at home and serve pasta with lots of vegetables. Just yesterday I irked them somewhat by hiding cauliflower in mac and cheese that I finally made after they kept asking for it for weeks.

However, this pasta salad, made with whole wheat pasta and tons of crunchy broccoli and cauliflower is no compromise – it is both healthy and popular with the whole family. The robust dressing is perfect with those mild tasting vegetables and by adding some crumbled feta and a handful of almonds you can turn it into a complete meal.

To this end I also double the amount of pasta and vegetables. The recipe makes plenty of dressing for this amount.

Pasta salad with cauliflower and broccoli
Adapted from Deborah Madison: Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.
Serves 4 to 6

about 800 – 1000 g (11/2 – 2 pounds) cauliflower and broccoli florets ( I use one medium cauliflower and one large broccoli head)
6 sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced
½ cup chopped scallions, including half of the greens
¼ cup chopped parsley
500 g (1 pound) pasta (I use whole wheat penne rigate, but shells or corkscrews are also great)
200 g feta cheese (optional)
a handful of almonds (optional)
fresh lemon juice to taste

Mustard vinaigrette:
2 tbsp aged red wine vinegar, sherry vinegar or fresh lemon juice
2 shallots or ½ red onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
salt, pepper
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp creme fraiche or sour cream
80 ml (1/3 cup) extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp snipped chives
3 tbsp capers rinsed

Make the vinaigrette. Combine the vinegar, shallots, garlic and ¼ tsp salt in a small bowl. Let stand for 15 minutes, then vigorously whisk in mustard, creme fraiche and oil, until thick and smooth. Grind a little pepper, then stir in the herbs and capers. Taste and adjust the seasonings if needed.

Cook the cauliflower and broccoli in a large pot of boiling salted water until barely tender, about 2 minutes. Scoop it out with a strainer, shake off excess water, and put in a large bowl with the vinaigrette, tomatoes, scallions and parsley.

Cook the pasta in the same water, then drain. Add the pasta to the bowl with the rest of the ingredients and toss gently. Serve hot or tepid, with lemon juice to sharpen the flavors.

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