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Pasta salad is a staple at summer cookouts and potlucks. There are the traditional creamy ones made with mayonnaise, vinegar, and sugar. There are also the ones made with crunchy vegetables and bottled Italian dressing. Then there’s mine.
When it comes to pasta salad, I always want a few things:
- to taste each individual ingredient in the dish,
- for the vegetables to have immense flavor,
- and for the dressing to complement the pasta, while not being overly sweet or heavy.
This salad is packed with fresh herbs for an elevated side dish that will most likely become the star of the show. Sorry in advance for whoever made the main dish!
How does flavor get added to the pasta salad?
In America, pasta often becomes the vehicle to transport other flavors or sauces to the table. Many pasta salads miss out on real flavor and instead have overly heavy dressings that are either too sweet or too sour. As a result, any other flavor is drowned out.
For a flavor-filled dressing, I remove the mayonnaise and sugar that can tend to overpower. Instead, I start with parsley, oregano, and basil. Herbs are the best way to add great flavor. Each one on its own is terrific, but mixing various herbs together adds complexity. The dressing becomes a quasi vinaigrette when it’s mixed with olive oil, red wine vinegar, and garlic. Poured all over the pasta and vegetables, a lighter or more flavorful dressing makes this side dish simply irresistible.
Why roast the vegetables?
Traditionally, pasta salad has either shredded carrots or pieces of onion, carrot, and broccoli. Enjoying smooth, cooked pasta and suddenly hitting a fresh crunchy vegetable can be jarring.
To prevent this, I roast the vegetables. Roasting does two great things:
- The vegetables become tender on the inside but retain a great roasted crust on the exterior.
- The roasting caramelizes the natural sugars within the vegetables and adds additional flavor.
After you start roasting your vegetables for pasta salad, there really is no other way.
Watch how to make this herb pasta salad
Fresh Herb Pasta Salad
- 2 cups broccoli florets
- 2 carrots sliced
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- ½ cup toasted pine nuts
- 1 lb Fusilli pasta
- 2 oz Parmesan cheese
For the herb dressing
- ½ cup basil
- ⅓ cup oregano
- ¾ cup parsley
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 scallion (white parts only)
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- ⅔ cup neutral oil (safflower, grapeseed, avocado)
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp pepper
For the salad
- Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- On a large roasting pan, spread the carrots and broccoli in an even layer. Drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast in preheated oven until the vegetables are lightly browned and tender, 12-18 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
- While the vegetables are roasting, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Once boiling, add 1 tbsp salt and the pasta. Cook until the pasta is just tender, 9-12 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.
- Add about ¾ of the dressing to the hot pasta and stir to allow the pasta to soak up the dressing. Add the roasted vegetables and the remainder of the dressing. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours.
- Before serving, top with roasted pine nuts and Parmesan cheese.
For the dressing
- In a blender container or large measuring glass, combine the herbs, garlic, scallion, red wine vinegar, and oil. Using an immersion or countertop blender, blend until combined, 30-60 seconds.