Autumn Crunch Pasta Salad

November 9th, 2015


Here is another great idea for Thanksgiving.  Salads are not usually a big part of the holiday feast, but why not?  With the heavy stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole and green beans slathered in cream of mushroom soup and french onion rings, something a little lighter should be a welcomed addition.


The components of this salad are all about Fall; apples, oranges, pecans, baby spinach and dried cranberries.  The pasta is just a small addition that gives the salad body.  I even amped the flavor up by making my sweet Bourbon pecans. This is a refreshing salad for the holidays.  The citrus dressing is light and delightful.

I saw this recipe on Facebook.  It was posted by my DIL’s Mom, Darla.  Since we will all be together for Thanksgiving I think this would be a great dish for our shared table.  Thanksgiving will be at Michael (Our Son) and Kristen’s (Our DIL) home.  They just moved into a new and bigger home that will accommodate all of the family.  We are looking forward to it.  The original recipe, and a much better picture can be found here.


Florence skyscape

A few more pictures of Italy.  We spent four days in Tuscany with a much too short trip into Florence.  But there is so much to do in the region that we were happy with our short trip into this historic city on the Arno River.

DAY 12 - San gimignagno 071

We stopped in San Gimignano, the epitome of a Tuscan hill town.  It still has 14 medieval towers standing out of the original 72.  Family towers were important in the 13th century.  The feuding noble families ran the hill towns and expressed their power by how tall their towers were.  Not much has changed over the years has it?  Although we enjoyed visiting the town, it was a tourist trap.

DAY 12 - San gimignagno 030

Our intrepid tour guide groveled to a new low to please us with a good picture. (although the picture is a little crooked). Notice all of the people eating Gelato around us!

Laurent oh my

But Laurent got his shot of us.  It was just one of many of his professional studies.  We were lucky to have this dear friend as our guide through Italy.  Thank you Laurent and Carole for starting your touring company and allowing us to be your test guests.  You are the best.  If you are interested in traveling in France or Italy by motorcycle or scotters, they will treat you so well. Here is the link.  Ride in Tours is the real thing.



  • 5 ounces fresh spinach (half a 10 ounce bag)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups dry small pasta
  • 3/4 cup chopped celery
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 can (15 ounces) mandarin oranges
  • 1 large Granny Smith Apple
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup pecans
  • Optional: Feta cheese
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 2-4 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon each: paprika, onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon poppyseeds
  1. Cook the pasta according to package directions.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, prepare the dressing. In a food processor or blender combine the oil (the vegetable oil yields a richer and in my opinion better taste, but the olive oil is healthier and still tastes great), apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, sugar, (adjust — more or less to personal preference, we like a less sweet dressing and use about 2 tablespoons) paprika, and onion powder. Pulse or blend for about 10 seconds. Stir in the poppy seeds.
  3. Drain the pasta once it’s cooked through and immediately toss a few tablespoons of the dressing with the pasta. This helps the pasta soak in the dressing and the flavor.
  4. Chill the dressed pasta in the fridge.
  5. Meanwhile, combine the (washed and de-stemmed) spinach with the chopped celery in a large bowl. Add in the cranberries and a can of drained mandarine oranges.
  6. If desired peel the apple (We like to leave on the peel!) and then slice into thin slices. Toss with lemon juice and then add to the salad.
  7. Pour dressing over the salad and toss. Add in the completely cooled pasta and toss with the rest of the salad.
  8. If you want to toast the pecans, place them in a single layer in a dry saucepan (don’t add anything) over medium heat. Stir constantly until the nuts are barely fragrant — just a couple of minutes. Watch carefully as the nuts are VERY easily scorched/burned.
  9. Alternatively, you can candy the pecans if desired. Check the link in the last paragraph of the blog text for how to candy pecans.
  10. Top the salad with the pecans and feta cheese.
  11. Enjoy immediately.
This salad (like most) aren’t very great leftover. If you aren’t eating this immediately, keep the ingredients separate from the dressing and only toss with the dressing right before eating. Top with pecans and feta after dressing the salad.



8 responses to “Autumn Crunch Pasta Salad”

  1. Darla says:

    Glad to see you posted this, Penny. It looks so delicious. I have enjoyed seeing your pictures of Italy. It is cold and dreary here in VA today which matches our mood, as Andy is in the last hours of his life. I do find solace knowing he is going to a place where the is no more sorrow or pain.

  2. Monique says:

    We stayed in San Gimignano:)
    Florence was a dream..all the artists..
    Everything was a feast for the eyes..

    This salad looks delicious..

    Little footnote..when we were in Italy we were with a couple that went their son and DIL lived there..he was a chef.. they were robbed in Rome..Vatican City,can you imagine?

  3. Penny @ The Comforts of Home says:

    That salad sounds great. Loved seeing the pictures of Florence and San Gimignano. We never toured San Gimignano, we walked into the walled city, found a restaurant off a side street and spent 3 hours having a wonderful lunch and wine. Then we got back on our tour bus. All of the other travelers on our bus said it was very touristy. I think we made the right decision!

  4. Madonna says:

    Your salad looks delicious. Laurent looks like a paparazzi. Great photos for memories of a lovely vacation.

  5. Love the bright colors in your salad…I think it would be a welcomed addition to the Thanksgiving table. I agree with you about San Gimignano being a tourist trap. The last time we were in the area, the parking lots were filled with tour buses…it used to be such a quaint town but now is wall to wall people.

  6. Francesca says:

    All those lovely places in Italy and you didn’t come to Sicily? It’s nice and hot here these days, it’s not at all a typical autumn, the sun is shining and it feels like summer. That pasta actually is perfect for this period. Too bad here in Sicily we don’t get cranberries or pecans! For Thanksgiving I will have to use our fabulous pistachios from Bronte:)

  7. Susan says:

    It looks like a delightful salad, Penny! It is nice to have something a little lighter with such a heavy meal but my family always goes for the traditional sides 🙂 I think this would make a lovely luncheon salad and I’d love to make it for myself. This and a piece of crusty bread and I’d be a happy gal! Love the pictures – especially the one of you and your friends 🙂

  8. Kathleen says:

    Your pictures make me want to visit Italy again so badly! Your salad is beautiful and would make a great addition to any Thanksgiving table 🙂

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