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This easy and flavorful crowd-pleaser also keeps exceptionally well in the refrigerator.

Our summer feels extra-special in that we’ve had opportunities to travel and see family we don’t get to be with year-round. We road-tripped to meet our newest niece, celebrated the wedding anniversary of a treasured aunt and uncle, and sent the kids to the grandparents’ house for a weekend of bonding.

My husband is one of five siblings. We do a family reunion every summer and it’s a lovely week filled with barely contained chaos. Twelve adults and eight kids under 10 fill a giant house. We ride bikes, hike, swim and play games until late at night. The cousins run together in blissful freedom, disappearing to play and make mischief in equal measure.

We feed what feels like a small army three times a day and the kitchen is always a mess because someone is always eating. The cupboards and counters overflow with meal prep ingredients and snacks. We pass fussy babies back and forth and slip hungry toddlers a snack while preparing dinner. We make pitchers of margaritas for happy hour (in an unspoken agreement to convene at the house at 5 p.m. for drinks and appetizers).

When we finally do sit down together for dinner the kids disappear after two bites. But the parents take a deep breath, clinking glasses and laughing at the collective noise eight children make. The grandparents nod and smile at their exhausted adult children, remembering the time when they parented us. It’s a week we look forward to all year long.

Food plays a central role in our gatherings, drawing us together, sparking conversation, and occasionally causing strife (it is a family gathering after all). I love that a good meal is as much a balm for our souls as it is nourishing to our bodies.

This year I’m bringing this easy and flavorful pasta salad. Penne pasta is combined with salty bacon, bell peppers, spicy jalapeno, green onions, tangy feta cheese and the most delicious cilantro vinaigrette. The result is a dish that easily feeds a big group and even better, is such a crowd-pleaser you’ll find people snacking on it well after the meal ends. It keeps exceptionally well in the refrigerator for a few days and because it’s not made with mayonnaise or other cream-based dressing, it’s ideal for a picnic or potluck. If cilantro isn’t your favorite, no problem. Skip the jalapeno in the salad and swap fresh basil leaves for the cilantro.

Summer Chimichurri Pasta Salad

For the Salad

  • • 1-pound penne pasta
  • • 5 slices center-cut bacon cut into bite size pieces
  • • 2 bell peppers, red or orange, diced
  • • 3 green onions diced
  • • 1 jalapeno, seeds completely removed, finely minced
  • • 4 ears corn shucked and cut from ear (a bag of frozen corn works great too)
  • • 1-pint cherry tomatoes sliced in half (optional)
  • • 6 ounce container crumbled feta cheese (goat cheese works great too)

For the Dressing

  • • 2 bunches cilantro
  • • ½ walla walla sweet onion, roughly chopped
  • • 1 clove garlic
  • • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • • Juice of a lime
  • • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • • ½ teaspoon black pepper

Start by cooking the bacon in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Flip the meat occasionally, stirring constantly until the bacon is golden brown on both sides. Remove from heat and drain bacon on a paper-towel lined plate. Chop and set aside.

Boil the pasta following package instructions. When the pasta is tender but NOT soft, drain the water away. Run cold water over the pasta briefly to stop the cooking process and return the noodles to the pot. Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil over the noodles and toss to evenly coat the pasta. Set aside.

In a large bowl combine chopped bell peppers, green onions, tomatoes, jalapeno and fresh corn. If using frozen corn, simply combine the frozen corn with the warm pasta. Stir until well-combined. The heat from the pasta will thaw the corn.

Add the pasta to the vegetables. Stir in the bacon pieces.

Using a food processor, combine all the dressing ingredients except the olive oil. Pulse a few times to break down ingredients. Turn food processor on and drizzle olive oil until a sauce forms and ingredients are completely combined.

Drizzle cilantro dressing over pasta salad, slowly mixing until ingredients are well-combined. Gently stir feta cheese into the salad. Garnish with extra cilantro and a generous pinch of kosher salt. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to three days. Serves 8-10 people.

*A lovely addition to this salad is grilled chicken and sliced avocado to make it a complete meal. Grill several chicken breasts on the barbecue, slice or cube and add to salad. Top with thin slices of avocado.