It’s picnic season. The temperatures are soaring, the rain has stopped. It’s time to get your coolers and picnic baskets prepped. What are your go to’s to bring to a picnic or tailgate? The most popular choices seem to be potato salads, fried chicken, baked beans (of course) and watermelon. Pasta salads are new to the scene, but a great option because they hold up in the heat better than a mayo based salad.
Everyone has a favorite recipe (or a favorite boxed brand that they like). I’m not sure what prompted me to stray from my faithful recipe. It was probably a picture, I’m a sucker for food pictures. The secret to the success of this dish is the roasted tomatoes. Promise me you will take the time to roast them. The end result, after 90 minutes, is worthy of your time. The roasting process turns those dull, often tasteless tomatoes, into something tart and marvelous.
I do suggest that you undercook your pasta just a bit, by a minute or two. The pasta will hold up better if it is slightly undercooked. It won’t get soggy when it sits and soaks up that dressing.
As always, this recipe is customizable. You like olives, you keep them in. You don’t like olives, you take them out. But not the roasted tomatoes, you keep them in. You won’t regret it!
Italian Pasta Salad with Roasted Tomatoes
4 cups grape tomatoes
1 big clove or 2 small cloves garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
ground black pepper
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
1 pound dried pasta, a bite-sized shape of your choosing (I used farfelle or bowtie pasta), cooked until 1 to 2 minutes before doneness and drained
6 ounces crumbled salty cheese, such as feta or queso fresco (I used cojita because that is what I had on hand)
1/2 cup pitted and rough-chopped olives of your choice (I opted to sub the olives for chopped pepperoni, I thought the crowd would be happier)
Salt and pepper
Roast tomatoes: Heat oven to 300°F. Cover 1 to 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Cut each small tomato in half lengthwise and arrange cut side up in a single layer on prepared sheets. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake in oven for approximately 90 minutes, until somewhat shriveled and dry to the touch, but not fully dehydrated. Set aside until needed, letting them cool.
Make dressing: Roughly chop the garlic on a cutting board, then add oregano, salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Mince the mixture with your knife until it’s a grainy paste. Transfer to a small bowl, whisk in lemon juice and vinegar, then slowly drizzle in oil, whisking the whole time. Taste and adjust as needed; you might need more salt or vinegar. I refrigerated the dressing before adjusting. Sometimes the flavors blend well together after refrigerating.
Assemble salad: In a large bowl, place drained pasta, roasted tomatoes, cheese and olives (or pepperoni) and toss gently to combine. Add dressing to taste, along with any extra salt and pepper needed. Salad can be eaten right away, but will keep in the fridge up to 3 days. This is also perfect for picnics and potlucks.