Summer cooking is supposed to be as easy and carefree as the season itself. You should be able to toss together a meal at a moment's notice, after a long day of fun, without too much hassle or seriously heating up the kitchen. This pasta salad follows this order — speckled with roasted eggplant, tangy feta, and fresh herbs, it's just the kind of dinner your summer evening is asking for.
While pasta salad is more often subjected to be a side dish, when it's done well, with flavorful ingredients, it really can take center stage. This version features mighty eggplant, which is cubed and quickly roasted until it's tender and caramelized. Salty, briny feta is added to kick up the flavor, chopped parsley and basil keep things fresh, and the whole mix is tossed with a simple red wine vinaigrette.
Ditch Crumbled Feta
This recipe calls for a block of feta rather then crumbled feta because frankly, the crumbled stuff just isn't any good. Pre-crumbled feta is dry and lacks that tangy punch a block of fresh feta has. So go for the block and crumble it over the pasta salad yourself.
Choose the Right Pasta
The dry pasta options at the grocery store are vast, but not every shape of pasta works well for pasta salad. While bowties are common, they actually aren't ideal; they tend to get overcooked at the ends before the center is cooked, and the pasta can fall apart when tossed.
Other short, tubular shapes, like penne and rigatoni, work well, but my favorite shape for pasta salad is orecchiette. The shape acts as mini cups, holding all the goodness — which, in this case, is eggplant and crumbled feta — inside, so you get a little bit of everything in each bite.
Feta & Eggplant Pasta Salad
For the salad:
1 medium eggplant (about 1 pound), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound orecchiette pasta
4-ounce block feta cheese, crumbled
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
For the vinaigrette:
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the salad: Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Place the eggplant on the baking sheet, drizzle with the oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss to combine. Roast until golden, tender, and caramelized, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the pasta.
Add the pasta to the water and cook until just tender. Drain and run briefly under cool water to cool the pasta down. Drain well again.
For the vinaigrette: Whisk all the ingredients together in a large bowl.
Add the cooked pasta and roasted eggplant to the dressing and toss to combine. Add the feta, parsley, and basil and give the salad one last gentle toss or two to combine. Serve at room temperature.
- Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.