My, how things change: I used to think sun dried tomatoes were among the world’s grossest foods, and today I’m writing you with a recipe for sun dried tomato pasta salad, which contains everything I love about pasta salad (creamy dressing, plenty of veggies, lots of seasoning) and TONS (okay, half a cup) of tender, oil-packed sun dried tomatoes.
Come to think of it, my relationship with pasta salad has also been tumultuous. By age 13, I might have been the nation’s leading expert on assembling Suddenly Salad; you know, the box mix with the pasta shells and dehydrated vegetables that are perhaps more fit for an astronaut? Basically all that was required was to boil the pasta and mix the seasoning packet with mayo and voila! Instant pasta salad. I won’t lie: I would still eat it if I happened to come across it at a picnic.
However, I would barely touch packaged macaroni salad with a ten foot pole. I wanted to like it because–hello–chilled vehicle for pasta in the hot summer months! But something about the overpowering onion or garlic flavor was much too pungent for my immature (or discerning?) young taste buds.
I don’t remember the exact function, but a few years ago, my sister–and then roommate–and I were preparing for an outdoor party, and she made a massive bowl of pasta salad. It was flecked with mini pepperoni, olives, cheese cubes, and I think a few vegetables. The dressing was an oil-based vinaigrette, so the colors of all the ingredients showed and it was much easier to pick through and dig out the pepperoni than if the dressing were creamy. That’s when it subconsciously dawned on me that pasta salad is really all up to its creator, if you go through a little extra trouble to boil some noodles and assemble it from scratch.
Another bonus to homemade pasta salad is that you control the nutrition. I’m completely over shelf-stable egg products and have almost permanently moved on to Just Mayo. I have no affiliation with the brand, but it’s worth specifying, because it does NOT taste like other vegan mayo. The store was once out of Just Mayo so I grabbed some other veganaise, a mistake which I will never make again. The stuff tasted like straight blended tofu and chemicals. Yuck! Just Mayo, on the other hand, tastes like the real thing, it’s also gluten free, and I’m noticing it’s actually easier to find now at places like Walmart and Target and Stop ‘n’ Shop than it is to find at Whole Foods. I think my local chain grocer had three flavors last time I stopped in and the prices are comparable to a decent brand of “real” mayo.
Because of the creamy dressing, you can skip cheese without detriment and this pasta salad is unapologetically vegan. Just don’t mention it to anyone, because you literally cannot taste the difference. However, if your eaters are skilled detectives, you can substitute regular mayonnaise or traditional pasta in this recipe with nearly identical results. It’ll even still be a little healthy with the fresh tomatoes and lack of meat or dairy.
As if to come full circle to my Suddenly Salad glory days, the idea for sun dried tomato pasta salad actually was inspired by a discontinued flavor of that product. I noticed on the website that there are all sorts of upset consumers who miss the Tuscan Tomato flavor (so upset they made the effort to go comment on the Betty Crocker website), so if you’re one of them, take today’s tomato pasta salad as a sign that the pasta salad gods are watchin’ out for you and you no longer have to mourn for tomatoes in your pasta salad–you can just make it yourself!
Should you buy it on Amazon?
As you might have read at the bottom of every blog post, I receive a small commission when you navigate to Amazon from NCK and make a purchase (of anything). So do I really recommend ALL the products I link, or am I just trying to get you to Amazon to buy something?
I actually support all the products I link, either due to excellent reviews, or, most often, my own personal, unsponsored use of the product. For some people, like myself, it’s easy to hop in the car and go scour the shelves at Whole Foods and five other grocery stores to find the perfect gluten free pasta at a decent price. And while diverse, healthy product choices are becoming more readily available everywhere, some of you live out in the country or are way too busy to even make it to ONE grocery store a week. The Amazon recommendations are for you guys, so let me break down the products that might come in handy for this pasta salad:
- Gluten free pasta – I love the tricolor vegetable noodles
- Just Mayo – plain flavor
- Oil-packed sun dried tomatoes – I like the texture better than the dry ones for this salad
- Suddenly Salad – because you should experience it once
- 12 oz. gluten free pasta (I used this one)
- 1 T olive oil
- 1 C vegan mayo (preferably Just Mayo, now available at Wal-Mart, Target, and others)
- Zest of half a lemon
- ¼ C lemon juice (1 large lemon)
- 2 t maple syrup
- ¼ t crushed red pepper flakes (or ½ teaspoon for extra heat)
- 1 t garlic salt
- Ground black pepper
- ¾ C chopped white onion or thinly sliced scallions (1 bunch scallions)
- ½ C chopped oil-packed sun dried tomatoes
- ¾ C chopped pitted black olives (about half a can)
- 1 C halved baby tomatoes or chopped seeded tomatoes
- 1 can (15 oz.) garbanzo or white beans, drained and rinsed (optional)
- About 20 sliced fresh basil leaves
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a teaspoon or two of salt, then stir in pasta. Cook until just tender, 8 to 9 minutes for most gluten free brands and shapes. Be careful not to undercook. Drain pasta and rinse with cold water for a minute. Transfer cooked pasta to a large mixing bowl and toss with a tablespoon of oil.
- While pasta cooks, make the dressing. Whisk mayo, lemon zest and juice, maple syrup, red pepper flakes, garlic salt, and a generous pinch or several grinds of black pepper until well blended. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- To the pasta, add scallions, sun dried tomato, olives, fresh tomatoes, beans (if using), almost all the basil, and about ¾ of the dressing. Stir gently to combine until all ingredients are coated in the dressing. If needed, add remaining dressing (you'll likely need it if you included beans) and more salt and pepper. Garnish the whole salad or each serving with remaining basil. Chill at least an hour and serve, or refrigerate, well covered, up to 2 or 3 days. Refresh salad with a little more cold mayo and lemon juice, plus seasoning as needed, just before serving
The dressing keeps well made ahead for up to 2 days, and the salad can be prepared a day or two ahead also. Reserve a fourth of the dressing and add just before serving, to refresh the texture.
Note: This page contains affiliate links. It does NOT contain sponsored content. Affiliate links (to products I recommend, on Amazon) offset my ingredient and website maintenance costs, so I can keep bringing you healthy pasta recipes like this one. Thanks!