Red Pesto Pasta Salad Recipe
Pasta salad is an easy dish for quick on-the-go meals. For this version, I used radiatore pasta because its unique shape that traps the sauce into the corkscrew-style curls. The sauce is a colorful bright red pesto made of sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red bell pepper, eggplant and pine nuts.
This is a perfect main course or side dish for picnics or summer parties. This time, I let the pesto pasta salad chill in the refrigerator for our family’s road trip to Oregon. We're leaving in the wee hours of the morning today and will arrive in Ashland for Oregon's annual Shakespeare Festival. We're looking forward to the visit! I will try to post about it and share our experience with you.
Yields: 6 servings1 (16-ounce) package radiatore pasta
1 clove garlic
¼ cup pine nuts, slightly toasted
1 teaspoon red chili flakes (optional)
¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, bruised to release the oil
1-½ tablespoons tomato paste
1 roasted red bell pepper, chopped
1 small grilled eggplant, chopped
6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons brown sugar
½ cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1 teaspoon sea salt (or regular salt)
¼ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
½ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon walnut oil
For the radiatore pasta: Bring about 5 quarts of water to a boil. Add the pasta, bring back to a boil, then immediately lower the heat to a gentle boil. That way the pasta is cooked all the way through evenly. Cook the pasta for about 12 minutes total. Salt the water half-way through the cooking process (it will bring out the natural flavor of the pasta and the pasta will be more tender) and keep stirring every now and then so the pasta does not stick to the bottom. When the pasta is cooked (cooked inside and out but still in shape and firm), reserve about 1/3 cup to ½ cup of pasta water and drain the pasta (do NOT rinse). Transfer the radiatore to a large serving bowl. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar. Season with a little salt.
Prepping the shallots and sun-dried tomatoes:
Finely mince the shallots. Reserve one raw and caramelize the rest.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small pan. Sauté the shallots with the red chili flakes (if used) in the oil over low heat for about 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent the shallots from burning, until the color is evenly golden brown and the shallots are tender. Add the sun-dried tomatoes. Season with salt. Turn off the heat.
How to make sun-dried tomato pesto sauce:
In a mini-food processor or mini-blender, combine the sun-dried tomato and caramelized shallot mixture, fresh oregano, raw shallot, tomato paste, 1 clove of garlic and pine nuts. Pulse until puréed; add the eggplant, red bell pepper, brown sugar, parmesan cheese and 4 tablespoons of red wine vinegar. Pulse and slowly add the remaining olive oil until it thickens. Add the reserved pasta water for a smoother flow (if necessary). Season with salt and pepper.
Assembly time: Add the red pesto sauce to the warm radiatore pasta. Toss well. Drizzle with walnut oil. Let cool completely. Plastic-wrap the bowl, and chill it in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Serve at room temperature.
You can store the pasta in the refrigerator if you make the dish in advance. Just make sure to remove it from the refrigerator and let it stand at room temperature 30 minutes before serving.
I added parmesan cheese for a subtle saltiness. But for a vegan version, you could also add soy bacon bits for a strong flavor.
I made 2 versions: one vegetarian and another with shredded smoked salmon.
July 31, 2010.