This light summer pasta dish pops with color and bursts with flavor. The smooth texture of the pasta and chickpeas combined with the crunchy walnuts and fresh arugula makes this dish a summer classic!
- 4 ounces mozzarella cheese*, fresh
- Black pepper, freshly ground
- 1/2 pound pasta shells, whole-wheat, small or medium-sized (up to 1-inch), dried
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
- 1 cup arugula (about 8 ounces)**, packed, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup California walnuts, toasted, coarsely chopped
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
- 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed, drained (1 3/4 cups cooked chickpeas)
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon garlic (about 1 good-sized clove), minced or crushed
- 3/4 teaspoon salt (plus some for the pasta cooking water)
- 1 teaspoon thyme, dried
- 1/2 teaspoon oregano, dried
- 1/4 cup olive oil
*Luxury ingredient: Fresh mozzarella. It really makes a difference here. If you like, you can use those tiny fresh mozzarella balls (they are so good), and if they seem too big you can cut them in half, or even in quarters. Don't make them too small, though, because it's nice to bite into a chunk of fresh mozzarella in this texturally fun dish. If using a larger hunk of cheese, just cut it into large dice.
**Young, small (and therefore not-so-bitter) arugula is best for this. Just pinch off and discard any stem extending past the base of the leaf and use the rest. For older, larger arugula, remove and use only the leaves, and discard the stems.
- Stir chickpeas, mozzarella and dressing together in a large bowl, and grind in a generous amount of black pepper. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, foil, or just a plate, and let it stand at room temperature at least 30 minutes.
- When you are ready to assemble the dish, put up a large pot of water to boil over high heat and add a tablespoon of salt. Place a large colander in the sink. When the water boils, add the pasta, keeping the heat high. Cook for the amount of time recommended on the package, checking it toward the end of the suggested time, to be sure it is not getting overcooked. When the pasta is just tender enough to bite into comfortably, dump the water-plus-pasta into the colander. Shake to mostly drain (it's okay to leave some water clinging); then transfer directly to the chickpea mixture in the bowl.
- Toss well from the bottom, sprinkling in the Parmesan, chopped arugula, tomatoes and walnuts as you go. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
- In a bowl, combine the vinegar, garlic, salt, thyme and oregano; whisk to blend. Keep whisking as you drizzle in the olive oil until it is fully incorporated.
- Makes about 1/2 cup dressing.