Harvest Pasta Salad

published Sep 20, 2023
Brown Butter Butternut Squash Pasta Salad Recipe

Whether you eat it warm, cold, or at room temperature, this butternut squash pasta salad is perfect for any occasion.

Serves4-6

Prep20 minutes

Cook30 minutes to 35 minutes

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Overhead view of pasta salad in a grey bowl, topped with cheese and a spoon in the bowl.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Food Stylist: Lauren Radel

Pasta salad gets a lot of love at summer barbecues and picnics, and for good reason — it’s a make-ahead-friendly lunch that is both substantial and bright. But fall deserves a pasta salad, too! My harvest pasta salad is perfect for bringing along on foliage-peeping autumnal outings, or to enjoy curled up on your couch in a chunky knit sweater while watching a classic rom-com. Once you taste the brown butter dressing, made with toasted walnuts, savory herbs, apple cider vinegar, and garlic, you may want to spoon it over everything you eat this fall. 

This salad comes together super quickly and is at once rich and light. Besides for lunch, it can be a main course or a side dish — eaten warm, immediately, or at room temperature hours or even days later, once the flavors have really gotten a chance to know one another. However and wherever you enjoy it, it will be bold, balanced, and a textural joy to eat.

Ingredients in Brown Butter Butternut Squash Pasta Salad

This pasta salad celebrates the produce and the flavors of autumn. 

  • Butternut squash. Caramelizing the squash in the oven lends the salad a complex sweetness. 
  • Leafy greens. Arugula or baby kale add crunch.
  • Parmesan cheese. Adds savoriness and a salty kick. I like to use a vegetable peeler to create thin shards. 
  • Walnuts. Well-toasted nuts give the pasta salad texture.
  • Unsalted butter. Browning butter on the stovetop contributes to a dressing with tons of nutty, zippy flavor.

Brown Butter Butternut Squash Pasta Salad Recipe

Whether you eat it warm, cold, or at room temperature, this butternut squash pasta salad is perfect for any occasion.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 30 minutes to 35 minutes

Serves 4-6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds

    butternut squash (1 medium)

  • 4 tablespoons

    olive oil, divided, plus more as needed

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt, divided, plus more as needed

  • 3/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper, divided

  • 1/2 cup

    walnuts

  • 4 tablespoons

    (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

  • 5

    large sprigs fresh thyme, or 10 fresh sage leaves

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    red pepper flakes, plus more as needed

  • 1

    small clove garlic

  • 1 tablespoon

    plus 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar, plus more as needed

  • 8 ounces

    dried short pasta, such as penne, gemelli, or mezzi rigatoni

  • 3 ounces

    Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese (not grated)

  • 4 cups

    baby arugula or baby kale (about 3 ounces)

Instructions

  1. Arrange a rack in the lower third of the oven and heat the oven to 425ºF. Meanwhile, peel and seed 2 pounds butternut. Cut into 1-inch pieces (about 5 cups) and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, season with 1 teaspoon of the kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of the black pepper, and toss to combine. Arrange into a single layer.

  2. Roast, flipping the squash halfway through, until tender and golden brown, about 30 minutes total. Meanwhile, prepare the dressing and remaining ingredients.

  3. Coarsely chop 1/2 cup walnuts. Cut 4 tablespoons unsalted butter into 4 pieces. Heat the butter and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat just until the butter melts and foams. Add the walnuts, 5 large fresh thyme sprigs or 10 fresh sage leaves, and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan to pick up toasted milk solids, until the butter is browned and very fragrant and the nuts are toasted, about 4 minutes.

  4. Scrape the mixture into a large heatproof bowl. Finely grate 1 small garlic clove into the bowl. Add 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Stir to combine. If using thyme, remove and discard the stems (you can leave the sage leaves in).

  5. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, shave 3 ounces Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese with a vegetable peeler into thin shards (about 1 cup). (Alternatively, very thinly slice the cheese with a knife.)

  6. Add 8 ounces dried pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the package instructions until tender. If serving immediately, drain the pasta, then add it directly to the dressing. If preparing in advance to serve at room temperature, drain and rinse briefly with cold water before adding to the dressing.

  7. When the squash is ready, add it and the cheese to the bowl and toss until combined. Taste and season with more kosher salt, apple cider vinegar, or red pepper flakes as needed. If the salad doesn’t look glossy enough, drizzle with olive oil and toss again. If serving immediately, add 4 cups baby arugula or baby kale and toss to combine. If preparing in advance to eat at room temperature, toss in the greens just before serving, and taste once more for seasoning.

Recipe Notes

Substitutions: Delicata or honeynut squash can be substituted for the butternut; skip peeling and cut into 1/2-inch thick half-moons. Pecans or almonds can be substituted for the walnuts. Radicchio or kale leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces, can be substituted for the baby arugula or baby kale.

Make ahead: The pasta salad can be made ahead up to 4 days without the greens and refrigerated in an airtight container. Toss in the greens and taste for seasoning just before serving.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.