Pasta salad is just an excuse to throw every antipasto item you love into a dish and toss it around with some corkscrew noodles. And it’s hard-wired for killer leftovers. Perfect summer dish, right?!
I made this pasta salad for my brother- and sister-in-law’s wedding welcome barbecue. It was the first time I’d cooked for such a large group–100 people!
Here’s Esther (the bride) and Lesly (the indomitable sous-chef) mixing the pasta salad in a giant tub. (That’s Baby Woww’s furry head below. He is NOT a good sous chef.)
I have to sincerely thank John and Esther for allowing me to cook, Lesly for pulling off a crazy amount of prep and baking to bring together her own desserts in addition to my savory dishes, and to Lesly’s cousin Jenny and aunt Caroline for adding even more desserts. The BBQ was awesome!!
Back to the food…
When I was recipe-testing this pasta salad, my husband said it needed bacon. My neighbor and my mom said it needed salami. Mom’s quote: “It’s a fine pasta salad, but if you add salami people will ask for the recipe.”
The problem: Pasta salad was the vegetarian dinner option. So I had to figure out a way to get some nice umami satisfaction without the meat.
The solution: Tons of marinated roasted eggplant with red chili flakes, and lots and lots of cheese (three kinds: grated parmesan, aged gouda, and smoked, sharp cheddar).
John and Esther are now happily married, and I didn’t give anybody food poisoning and ruin the whole wedding (hooray for overcoming your fears!).
Roasted Eggplant & Aged Gouda Pesto Pasta Salad
Serves 12 for dinner, or 24 as a side dish (leftovers, people!)
Note: I list some shortcuts at the end of the recipe.
- Roasted Eggplant & Vinaigrette Marinade
- 2 medium-large eggplants, cut into 1″ cubes
- 4 tbs olive oil (for roasting the eggplant)
- 1/2 cup olive oil (for vinaigrette)
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp red pepper flakes (less if you’re not so into the burn)
- 2-3 tsp fresh herbs, chopped (oregano, rosemary, or parsley work really well)
- generous 1/2 tsp salt
- generous 1/2 tsp pepper
- Roasted Tomato Pesto
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- 3 large cloves garlic
- 2 cups basil
- 2 cups roasted tomatoes
- 1/2 tsp salt
- pasta water (enough to thin the sauce to your liking)
- 1/2 lb. grated parmesan cheese
- 1/2 lb. aged gouda, cut into 1/2″ cubes
- 1/4 lb. cubed smoked sharp or aged cheddar
- 1 small jar green olives, sliced
- 1 lb. whole cherry tomatoes
- 1 lb. corkscrew pasta
Note: I cut this recipe down from the original (you probably don’t need to feed 100 people…). But measurements may still need tweaking, so please provide feedback!
Now Do This:
1. One day ahead, prep, roast, and marinate the eggplant:
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Cut eggplant into 1″ cubes.
- Divide eggplant onto two cookie sheets, and drizzle 2 tbs olive oil over each pan. Toss the eggplant in olive oil and lay out evenly.
- Roast for approx. 20-30 minutes. (Note: Cook time will change depending on your oven. Check for brown-ness. I like my roasted veggies to be a little crispy. I also don’t turn the eggplant during cooking, but you can if you want. You’re probably not as lazy as me.)
- While eggplant is roasting make the vinaigrette marinade:
- In a large bowl, whisk together balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, herbs, salt, and pepper. Whisk in olive oil.
- As soon as the eggplant comes out of the oven, scrape it into the bowl with the vinaigrette. It’s important to mix the two together while the eggplant is warm, because the eggplant will absorb way more flavor.
- Note: Before you turn the oven off, why not roast the tomatoes? Then you won’t have to turn on the oven again tomorrow! (Cut tomatoes into eighths, toss in olive oil, lay out on cookie sheet, roast at 450 degrees for 45-60 minutes–high water content makes for a longer roasting time.)
- Let the eggplant cool somewhat, then cover the bowl and store it in the fridge until you assemble the rest of the pasta salad (1-2 days).
2. Prep all your add-ins: slice the olives, cube the cheese, wash the cherry tomatoes. (Make yourself a snack with the extra cheese….)
3. Cook the pasta. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water after you drain the pasta.
4. Make the pesto.
- In a blender or food processor, combine olive oil, garlic cloves, basil, roasted tomatoes, and salt. Blend until very smooth.
- If the sauce is too thick, add a little pasta water. I like this sauce to be thinner than my normal pesto so that it easily coats all the ingredients.
- Note: I found that traditional pesto (thicker, no tomatoes, parmesan cheese added-in) gets a little brown, clumpy, and even bitter in pasta salad after a day or two–and I like to eat leftover pasta salad all week. This sauce solved those problems for me.
5. Combine all ingredients in this general order: pasta, pesto, eggplant (including any extra vinaigrette), parmesan cheese, olives, aged gouda and sharp cheddar, cherry tomatoes.
6. Serve! Then store the leftovers and eat them all week. Tell me how it goes for you!
- Use already-made pesto, and ditch the roasted tomatoes.
- Buy pre-sliced olives.
- Marinate the roasted eggplant in store-bought vinaigrette, and add red pepper flakes.
- If you want to cut-out the extra day marinating the veggies, just let the warm veggies soak in vinaigrette for 30-45 minutes, and then add them to the warm pasta.
- Squish all the eggplant onto one cookie tray, and use the second cookie tray for the tomatoes, so you can double-team the oven and cook them at the same time. Just turn up the heat after the eggplant comes out, then finish roasting the tomatoes.