Popeye made me do it! (A word from our winner)

Last week we announced the winner of Recipe4Living’s Spinach Contest, and like all our contest winners, we gave our winner the chance to blog on Chew on That. Here’s what she had to say about her award winning recipe! – Hillary

Wow what a great day! Winning the Spinach recipe contest made it perfect! I wish I could say that the Spinach pasta salad with Lemon Balsamic dressing was a recipe I have used at many a party and that it has been highly requested at Potlucks in every church fellowship hall from Cleveland, Ohio to California, but alas I must admit to Editor Hillary one thing, It’s a brand new recipe that I actually created just for the Recipe4Living contest!

Yes, I am afraid it is true I was flying by the seat of my pants and channeling the spirit of Popeye himself! I have never entered a recipe contest before and suddenly with the song “I’m Popeye the sailor man…” ringing in my head I set my pen to paper and ingredients began to flow from my pen as if by magic. A nice spinach recipe would be the perfect way to introduce my inner chef to the world.

Being lax at keeping up with my e-mail the past couple weeks, I didn’t see the contest advertisement until the last week of May just two days before the end of the contest. With spinach being a favorite of mine I didn’t want to miss my chance to give this recipe contest thing a try. So, I put my brain to work and wrote a million little notes for myself on what I wanted to include. I finally narrowed down the field of ingredients and knew it was something I had to test out before entering it into the contest. So my eager co-workers became my spur of the moment test subjects and as I pushed the send key on my computer to enter my new recipe into the contest on Wednesday the day before the deadline, I was getting feedback from my little “lab-rats”. I was really happy that I was getting praise and kudos galore from each and everyone. The overnight marinade in the refrigerator did the job I had hoped it would, the spinach was slightly wilted without losing color or flavor and many told me that the tomatoes had captured the basil from the dressing like crazy. They loved the Lemons and Garlic in the dressing and it took them a moment before they noticed the punch line from the red pepper flakes. They wanted more?! The whole bowl of salad was gone inside 45 minutes.

The whole wheat pasta was a must for me as I am trying to incorporate more whole grains into the diet of my husband Charlie and I and being Italian, there is no way I could leave pasta out of my diet. I love the whole wheat pasta for it’s nutty flavor and lately I have used it more often then ever before. I was thinking about my Dad who passed away in 1984 as I was writing and thinking about my Italian heritage too. So in to the mix went the cherry tomatoes, fresh Mozzarella and roasted red peppers in oil. My Dad loved his cooked spinach with lemon and salt and pepper and I thought he would enjoy that. I also remember hearing Giada DeLaurentis on the Food Network talking about lemon “cooking” foods from the acid and I thought; I wonder if it would wilt the Spinach without taking out the nutrition the way boiling the spinach would do. It worked and by adding Honey it gave a very slight sweetness just before the kick from the red pepper flakes. I was on cloud 9, I thought to myself, I have myself an original recipe that is a hit! I was grinning from ear to ear. Now the big wait was just to see if the recipe sounded as good to Recipe4Living as it tasted to my co-workers (but now we all know what happened!)

Go ahead and give this recipe a try and give me your thoughts – I am always up for some good criticism and helpful hints!

Here is the recipe again:

Spinach Pasta Salad with Lemon Balsamic Dressing


1 lb. whole wheat penne pasta
1 sm. onion, thinly sliced
1 bag of spinach leaves, washed and drained
2 carrots, shredded
1 med. size seedless cucumber, lightly peeled & diced
2 6-oz. containers fresh “Ciliegine” Mozzarella, drained and cut in half
1 10-oz. container sweet cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 12-oz. jar roasted red peppers in oil, chopped drained and reserve oil

1 full bulb of garlic – roasted and cooled (directions below)
1/4 C. chopped roasted red pepper
juice of 2 fresh lemons
1/4 C. balsamic vinegar
1/4 C. fresh chopped basil leaves
1 tsp. fresh ground sea salt
1 tsp. fresh ground cracked pepper
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 Tbs. honey
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 C. olive oil
1/4 C. roasted red pepper oil


Wash spinach and set aside to drain well (tear apart large leaves and remove thick stems).

Roast 1 bulb of garlic in a 400-degree oven. Peel away the outer layers of the garlic bulb skin, leaving the skins of the individual cloves intact. Using a knife, cut off 1/4 to a 1/2 inch of the top of cloves, exposing the individual cloves of garlic. Place the bulb cut side up on a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil, drizzle with about 2 Tbs. olive oil making sure to cover each clove and then bring the sides of the foil up and seal all around. Bake for about 30-35 minutes or until cloves are soft and caramel colored. Let cool until you can touch it with your hand and squeeze out each clove into a cup or dish…let cool while you make the salad.

Make pasta according to box, cook to “al dente” about 12 minutes. Drain the pasta and rinse with cold water to completely cool the pasta and stop the cooking process. Turn out into a large bowl, add cucumber, tomatoes, onions, shredded carrots and roasted red peppers, add the spinach and the fresh mozzarella and toss lightly.

Mix all of the dressing ingredients together in a blender EXCEPT the two oils, combine the two oils together and then slowly drizzle in the oil mixture while the blender is running and blend completely. Pour dressing over pasta salad and toss well to coat.

Chill overnight to serve the next day this will allow the flavors to blend and will slightly wilt the spinach.

Serve along side grilled chicken, fish or as a light lunch with fresh crusty bread.

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  • http://closetcooking.blogspot.com/ Kevin

    The spinach and pasta salad sounds good! I like using whole wheat pasta as well.

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