charred eggplant and walnut pesto pasta salad Recipes

charred eggplant and walnut pesto pasta salad

Pasta salads get a bad rap but I find that the more I think of them as room temperature summer dishes and the less as mayo-slicked bowls of suspicion and dread, the more inviting they become, not only for cookouts and picnics, but (ahem) a gorgeous Tuesday night.


ready to grind
walnut pesto

Two things help a lot, first, I like starting with a salad dressing we’ve loved and building it from there. We talked about this walnut pesto [pesto di noci] for the first time way back in 2009; it’s from Jody Williams and it’s a longtime staple on crostini at the shoebox wine bar Gottino in the West Village. Don’t be put off by its unassuming appearance — this combination of toasted walnuts, olive oil, thyme, parmesan and a dab of minced sundried tomatoes is a triumph of flavor, I’m not surprised Frank Bruni once called it one of the best crostini in town and likened it to “crunchy peanut butter for grown-ups.” [But oh, I think it’s even better.]

1/2-inch slices

Next, a grilled or roasted vegetable really helps make a pasta salad into a great lunch or dinner dish, and doesn’t have the aggressive crunch of raw ones. The summer months are teeming with great produce, we should take advantage. I also find that the more exceptional the vegetable, the more you can dial back the proportion pasta, should you and carbs be wary of each other right now. It’s a little early for eggplant (I was impatient) but you could just as easily use grilled or roasted zucchini/summer squash, red pepper or even the last of the skinny asparagus.

grilled eggplant

Finally, this might just be me, but my favorite thing is going to a store with a great selection of pasta shapes and picking something funky. The best kind here will be short and easily stabbed with a fork, and have pockets where the nubby bits of walnut nirvana can hide out. (I used Setaro’s organietti but other brands call it radiatore). And then, take it outside somewhere. Pasta salad is for plates on your lap, picnic benches and plastic cups with condensation down the outside.

charred eggplant and walnut pesto pasta salad

Now that you’ve let me sound off, I am genuinely curious: What’s the worst pasta salad you’ve ever had and what’s the best?

One year ago: Saltine Crack Ice Cream Sandwiches
Two years ago: Coconut Brown Butter Cookies
Three years ago: Rhubarb Cream Cheese Hand Pies
Four years ago: Strawberries and Cream Biscuits
Five years ago: Roasted Peppers with Capers and Mozzarella
Six years ago: Root Beer Float Cupcakes and Lamb Chops with Pistachio Tapenade
Seven years ago: Grilled Shrimp Cocktail, Graham Crackers and Pesto Potato Salad with Green Beans
Eight years ago: S’More Pie and Jim Lahey’s Potato Pizza
Nine years ago: Black Bottomed Cupcakes and Spring Vegetable Stew

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Pull-Apart Rugelach
1.5 Years Ago: Decadent Hot Chocolate Mix
2.5 Years Ago: Cigarettes Russes Cookies
3.5 Years Ago: Cauliflower Feta Fritters with Pomegranate
4.5 Years Ago: Caesar Salad Deviled Eggs

Pasta Salads, previously:

Pasta Salad with Roasted TomatoesPasta and Fried Zucchini SaladZucchini and Almond Pasta SaladSummer Pea and Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Salad

Charred Eggplant and Walnut Pesto Pasta Salad

  • Servings: 3 to 4 as a light meal; double it for a party
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Print

Source: Walnut pesto adapted from Jody Williams

    Assembly
  • Salt
  • 1/2 pound pasta (I used Setaro’s organietti, but other radiatore shapes are great here)
  • Additional olive oil
  • 1 medium eggplant (1 pound)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Additional sherry or red wine vinegar
  • 2 ounces ricotta salata, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley or basil
  • Dressing
  • 3/4 cup (2 3/4 ounds ounces) walnuts, toasted and cooled first for best flavor
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 small garlic clove, peeled
  • 2 sprigs of thyme, cleaned
  • Salt
  • 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar, plus more at end
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more at end
  • 2 tablespoons (about 3) minced sun-dried tomatoes (oil or dry-packed will both work)
  • Freshly ground black pepper and/or red pepper flakes

Cook pasta: In very well salted water until 1 to 2 minutes before doneness and drain.

Prepare eggplant: Trim eggplant and slice into 1/2-inch coins. Brush both sides with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat grill to medium-high. Arrange eggplant in one layer and cook until charred underneath, about 8 minutes. (If it’s sticking to the grill, it wants to cook longer.) Flip pieces over and cook until charred on second side, about 5 to 8 minutes more. Set aside to cool slightly then chop into chunks.

No grill? Heat oven to 425. Trim eggplant and slice into 1/2-inch coins. Coat a baking sheet generously with olive oil, arrange eggplant on top and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast, without disturbing, for 15 to 20 minutes. Carefully flip each piece: the undersides should be blistery, dark and a bit puffy and should release easily; if they don’t want to, cook them a few minutes longer. Flip each piece, sprinkle again with salt and pepper, and roast on the second side for 10 to 12 minutes, or until charred underneath again.

Make dressing: In food processor, coarsely grind walnuts, cheese, garlic, thyme, salt and freshly ground black pepper and/or red pepper flakes. Stir in oil and tomatoes, then whisk in vinegar to taste.

Assemble salad: Toss cooked pasta with walnut dressing and additional vinegar and oil to loosen (I used about 1 tablespoon extra oil and 2 tablespoons extra vinegar in total). Add eggplant and toss again. Adjust seasonings to taste, then stir in cheese and herbs.


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123 comments on charred eggplant and walnut pesto pasta salad

  1. Rebecca

    This sounds so delicious! For some reason, i love potato salad but the same treatment with pasta doesn’t interest me. Your pasta salads all sound like they are bright and yummy. I will be trying these. Thank you!

  2. Elaine

    You are in my fridge. Made the lovely chopped salad last night with remnants from the veg drawer and radishes from the garden. Yum. And have been searching around for something to do with the charred eggplant I cooked but the hubby will not let me make the middle eastern salad with preserved lemon that I had intended it for. This pasta salad is perfect. I might just toss in some leftover grilled lamb, too. Thanks much!

  3. Jon Gabriel

    Hi, Deb. Oh, that glorious looking pasta salad! That’s what’s for din this weekend. Who cares if it’s a high end vehicle for my favorite vegetable, eggplant. Love the idea of ricotta salata. The worst, most absolutely vile pasta salad I’ve ever had was in a delicatessen nearly 30 years ago-boxed, not frozen tortellini, bottled Italian dressing, so much oregano that it crunched in the mouth and minuscule baby shrimp. Strictly vile and never again would I go near it. The best may just be your recipe. Zillion thanks.

  4. Clare

    Oh, how quickly having a grill makes you forget the rest of us grill(and outdoor space, for that matter)-less New Yorkers! Can this be done in the oven as well?

  5. Jen

    Wow this salad looks lovely!

    Ugh, I don’t want to speak too poorly of her, but my mother in law makes terrible pasta salads all the time. She generally just uses bottled italian dressing and loads it with canned black olives which I hate. But the absolute worst I’ve had is again from my mother in law–she buys this sundried tomato pasta salad at a store near us and brings it often to potlucks. It is gloppy with mayonnaise and something else in the dressing that makes it dark and way too sweet, and then there are little nubs of the really dry tomatoes that never fully soften. It’s kind of like eating pasta drenched in mayo and sugar with bits of rubber mixed in. Blech. It is so disgusting. I took one bite once that I regretfully had to choke down, and have studiously avoided it ever since. She adores it and is constantly asking “Don’t you love this salad?”

  6. Kate

    I reserve judgment for “best” because I am always finding pasta salads like this one that move the goal posts. The WORST pasta salad is the one my father in law makes dutifully for every cookout all summer and I dutifully always take a little scoop of. It has three ingredients: elbow pasta, overcooked chopped hard boiled eggs, and store brand mayo. No salt, no pepper, no other seasonings of any kind. I add mustard to mine at the table and eat it quickly to get it out of the way, but I will never tell him how awful it truly is.

  7. Kathy

    I’ll be making this wonderful-looking pasta salad later today with asparagus, as you suggested. I’m a huge fan of pesto in all of its ‘incarnations’!

    Regarding a favorite pasta ‘salad’, I’ve adapted the “Double Broccoli Quinoa” recipe from 101Cookbooks.com and use pasta instead. Warm, cold or somewhere in between, it’s one of the freshest. ‘brightest’ tasting pasta dishes I’ve ever had!

  8. my best pasta salad was radiator with homemade pesto, sundried tomatoes, fresh tomato, assorted fresh veg, and leftover grilled chicken breasts. i also love this combo with cheese tortellini. when all the ingredients are quality, it sings in it’s simplicity. the worst was an awful Miracle Whip laden affair with sliced hotdogs, american cheese and celery in it. i’ll be honest and say i didn’t actually taste it. maybe it was delicious?

  9. Jodi

    Deb, would this still be tasty good if I made it Friday morning, and transported it to the cottage in a cooler for dinner on Friday evening?

    1. deb

      Jodi — Yes, absolutely. Just had leftovers for lunch. ;) That said, you can always hold back half the dressing and stir it in at the end for the least absorbed flavor.

  10. Oh, man, it’s almost dinner time here and you’re making my mouth water (tuna steaks tonight). I love pasta salads, but no mayo! Or I’ll ditch pasta and use brown rice, or quinoa or lentils or whatever. Something to keep my stomach from growling two hours later, which is what would happen if I ate only vegetables.
    Definitely must do this version.

  11. Carissa

    My dad developed an amazing Southwestern Mediterranean Pasta Salad, with fresh & sun dried tomatoes, olives, spinach, asiago cheese, and a smoky chipotle lime dressing. It is to die for!

  12. Liz Velasquez

    Best pasta salad: Summer Pasta with Zucchini, Ricotta and Basil via The NYT. Worst pasta salad is a broccoli pasta salad with bottled three cheese ranch dressing.

  13. Randi

    There may be something wrong with me because I LOVE pasta salad! My two favorites aren’t even real pasta, but couscous! My mom used to make one with black beans, confetti cut bell peppers of many colors, corn and diced onions with a southwestern style vinaigrette that tastes of my youth. And my other favorite (kind of similar) is the Cowboy Ciao Stestson Chopped Salad with chicken instead of salmon. When it’s tossed in a big bowl instead of all fancified in little organized strips of salad it’s the best pasta salad ever!

    Worst pasta salad ever, anything that is just mayo, elbow macaroni and assorted canned veggies, corn or olives or sweet relish. *Gag*

  14. I feel like my Southern heritage requires me to defend the mayo/elbow/whatever salad, which I *do* love (though lots of people end up making them watery, which is GROSS: mayo soup, barf), but I also adore this sort of new-school salad. My personal favorite cold noodles are sesame-and-soy laden soba, and now you’ve got me thinking about adapting them to something that feels more like a ‘pasta salad’ as such: thanks!

  15. cR

    Deb – I’d love to hear your feedback on the Jen#6 pasta salad/mother-in-law gloppy tale of woe. You’re such a diplomatic person — how does one maneuver a mother-in-law with such awful taste in food? It seems that you have the opposite situation and instead bond over positive, shared food experiences with your in-laws. I’m pretty persuaded, unfortunately, by Jen’s vivid description of the disgusting sun-dried tomato pasta salad – what’s the graceful etiquette move here?

    1. deb

      cR — Lol, I might be “diplomatic” but according to my husband and also the mirror, I am genetically void of a poker face. So, politeness only gets me so far. :) But regardless, you don’t have to say anything except “Thank you! You brought the salad!..” etc. Nobody will ever know. Because in the end, she loves it and brings it because she thinks it makes other people happy too.

      (Right now you can tell I fear I’m the types who brings, say, broccoli slaw to every party and maybe people are like “Oh god that broccoli slaw….” heh)

      (The funniest part is of all those things, it’s the canned black olives slices I can’t touch. Why are they spongy? Someone needs to tell why they’re spongy and how anyone can eat spongy olives.)

  16. Jane M

    I think Macaroni Salad is the WORST. Tasteless, and just a mayo-laden bowl of FAT! HAHA! I enjoy any kind of orzo pasta salad with fresh or roasted vegetables! #yum!

  17. HoS

    First sentence: temperate –> temperature, maybe? Can’t make sense of it otherwise, but maybe it’s me.

    Will read the rest of it now :)

  18. Deb – this looks amazing! I was wondering how you think this would work as a rice dish instead of pastas? Or perhaps some other grain (I’m thinking it might be good with wheatberries, farro… something a little nutty and chewy). Would you suggest cutting up the vegetables smaller (and would I do this before or after grilling)? What about using fresh cherry tomatoes at the end to add some freshness? I’m not much of a pasta person but love using whole grains so any suggestions would be welcomed in my kitchen!

    1. deb

      Judity — All of this! Farro, yes. Cherry tomatoes, yes. (Almost put them in here, actually, but a combination of being happy enough with it and also we were out stopped me.) I think I want to make this next. :)

  19. This looks super delicious, and since it has eggplant AND pesto AND walnuts in it I will not think twice and make this beauty myself. Thanks for sharing this!

  20. Lacy

    I love a good pasta salad! Have had some nasty ones….worst was one made with Kraft macaroni & cheese (which was then cooled) & then had relish, mustard, mayo & ham plus a few other vegetables & things. Wow, not sure why I even tasted it. Also terrible are mayo pasta salads with absolutely no other seasonings, much like grocery store mac salad that has a funny aftertaste; um hello preservatives. Best I’d say are homemade Midwest pasta salads (I grew up there & no one can bring decent potluck food where I live now!) that have definitely fresh, seasonal ingredients & of course love :)

  21. I hold a very special place in my heart for mayonnaise pasta salads, assuming they’re homemade or consumed on a beach in Maui. Otherwise, my very, very, favorite pasta salad is Ina’s Orzo with Roasted Vegetables.

  22. Rebecca

    I want to try this, but the other half won’t eat eggplant. I may try one of the other vegetables suggested.

    Pasta salad horror story: I have a friend I often do collaborative meals with. Come summer, she wants to make her pasta salad for any meal. It consists of elbow mac, Miracle Whip, onion, and canned tuna. I never have the heart to tell her “don’t bother. Please!”

  23. Marissa

    What would you recommend as a substitute for the sherry vinegar? I have red wine, balsamic, and rice vinegars already in my tiny pantry (really cabinet), and don’t want to add to the collection unless I have to. Thanks!

  24. Ellen N.

    Hi Deb,

    This looks delicious. Thanks once again for giving us so many wonderful recipes.

    As you instructed that the eggplant should be cut in to coins; am I correct in assuming that you were using Chinese eggplants, not globe eggplants?

    The best pasta salad I’ve had: I make pasta salad all the time. I use orzo pasta which I think takes well to being served cold. I usually include beets, sun dried olives, feta and green onions. Of course it’s variable depending on what I have on hand. I do like to use a sweet vegetable and salty condiments. I dress it with vinaigrette made with mustard (homemade from David Lebovitz’s website), olive oil and sherry vinegar.

    The worst pasta salad I’ve had: Someone brought one to an office potluck. The pasta was overcooked. It had bottled Italian dressing, mushy canned olives and whole spinach leaves.

  25. Amy S

    The worst pasta salad I ever ate was from my childhood best friend’s mom who used to say “I’m famous for my macaroni salad”. It turns out she never uttered the entire truth of the sentence which is, “I’m famous for my macaroni salad because it is the worst. one. ever.” Basically, it was store brand mayonnaise ruthlessly enveloping overcooked macaroni in a choke-hold of blandness and boredom. No seasonings. No celery, relish, onion, or other veggies. Two ingredients, I kid you not. It was a white, sad, moist mess. Famous, indeed.

  26. Suzzanne

    I once tried the salad sampler plate from the deli in our local supermarket. Overly sweet dressings made with low calorie bottled dressings. I will not eat those salads again, if you can even call them salads. They have one salad in the case with crushed Oreo cookies and cool whip. I do make a pasta salad for my family with chicken, chopped onion and celery, dried cherries, and walnuts for the crunch. Tasty. Your walnut pesto dressing sounds good!

  27. Patty

    Ottolenghi’s fried zucchini and pasta. I’d avoided it when I got the cookbook. Because, frying of course. But you did a great post on it that totally persuaded me. And of course you were right!! The best!!

  28. Thanks for sharing this remarkable post with us. I think i have something better to prepare for my family on our next camping. I can’t wait to try it out and share the experiences with friends. Awesome post, kudos!!!

  29. Kate

    Best pasta salad I’ve ever had…most definitely Smitten Kitchen’s Pea and Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Salad!!! Wins over everyone at Memorial Day picnics every year!!!

  30. Kristen

    I just made this. You guys, it’s seriously even better than you are imagining (and I skipped the cheese, so you know it was good if it still wowed me!)

    I happened to have both eggplant and asparagus already in the fridge so I ended up doing both and doubling the veggies, both roasted on the grill. I’ve made so many things from the site, but this truly stood out. So delicious! Favorite pasta salad? See above.

  31. Tillie

    Worst pasta salad ever (and sadly, my grandma’s favorite trotted out at every summer picnic): over cooked elbow macaroni, thawed frozen peas, green pepper, sharp cheddar and chopped sweet pickles smothered in miracle whip.

  32. JP

    Worst to me, and likely you will get people who are unhappy I said this, is the salad called Frog Eye Salad made with acini di pepe pasta, canned mandarin oranges, frozen non dairy whipped cream, a beaten egg and instant pudding. Looks curdled. Down right nasty. Even if I could do this with fresh ingredients, I would steer clear. Fruit salads should not have pasta in them at all.

  33. Sherry

    Funny, I thought crunchy peanut butter was crunchy peanut butter for adults. Shows you what I know…
    …but this salad idea is gorgeous, Deb — thank you. Is there a reason you’d avoid using walnut oil instead of (part of) the olive?

  34. Maggie

    I will provide a loving home for all the Italian-dressing-and-olive pasta salads, for I love both of those ingredients unabashedly whether humble or fancy-schmancy. Mayo pasta salads are gross. This looks great and will be made promptly with zucchini (we love walnuts but are eggplant-averse).

  35. I can NOT wait to try this recipe!

    I have two favorite pasta salads – Shrimp, Pea, and Cashew Pasta Salad with a dill mayo dressing and Chicken with Broccoli, Carrot, and Raisin Pasta Salad with a lovely curry mayo dressing. Every time I bring them to pot lucks or serve them at dinners, they are gone quickly and people beg for the details. :)

    I would be more than happy to share the recipes, if you would like.

    AnniePie

  36. Rach

    The worst pasta salad is one a friend of mine makes at her birthday every year. It involves tinned peas (school dinner alert), tinned sweetcorn, gouda cheese in cubes, and some kind of processed salami in cubes. With lots of cheap mayo. Ughhhh. She’s great, but the salad is a crime. (Haven’t told her though…)

    This is one of my favourite pasta salads – my mum used to make it all the time in the summer and I never got bored of it. It’s really fresh and light (NO MAYO!) and tastes even better with the addition of a torn-up ball of mozzarella:
    http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/2994/deli-pasta-salad

  37. Dahlink

    I despise anything that includes sweet pickle relish and I am very wary of sun-dried tomatoes after a couple of very bad reactions. Does anyone know why some SDTs are toxic and others fine? I suspect the processing is the problem.

  38. Never would I have thought to put eggplant and walnuts together………and DEFINITELY not in a pasta salad. Although I’m laughing (with you on the mayo comment) I mean, you area so right. People live in fear of the Pasta Salad at “THE POTLUCK” dinner. No one will touch it! Last gathering at our campground, almost every single person got sick. No wonder people live in dread.

  39. This is looks amazing! I’m allergic to walnuts so I would probably replace them with pine nuts or pecans. Would that work? I feel like pecans would be the closest taste to walnuts but pine nuts are always a winner with pasta.

  40. Carol M

    I definitely want to try this! Eggplant-yum! Walnut pesto – yum! I too have gotten away from mayo-laden summer salads, although I do like a well-made potato,salad (when I make mine, I douse the warm potatoes with vinaigrette and chopped green onions before chilling and adding a moderate amount of mayo at the end.)

  41. Alice

    Thanks so much for giving the “no-grill” alternative. I have no grill and feel left out when a recipe sounds great but provides no alternative for those who don’t grill.

  42. Kristi

    Oh, eggplants! <3 This looks LOVELY. Once it's eggplant season, I dutifully plant at least 4 to 5 eggplants in the garden to maintain my insanely high quota of 2-3 E.P.D. (Eggplants Per Day). I can never have enough eggplant in the kitchen.

    Worst pasta salad was the ultra-soupy-mayo-never-go-bad elbow pasta and minced "vegetable" pasta salad. I would scoop it out of huge buckets at my first job in a local deli. Even as a 14 year old I knew this pasta salad would be horrible. I would cringe every time I sold it.

  43. Cynthia Rieth

    Looks delish! Made your mushroom lasagna last night and it was divine – added some grilled shredded chicken as I had some and we loved it – lots of pots to clean though ;)

  44. Katie

    Hi Deb,
    I was wondering if this would be good with just a sun-dried tomato pesto without the walnuts? My husband is allergic so I make a nut-free pesto usually. This looks so delicious. :)

  45. Elisabeth

    I’m commenting for the first time, although I’ve read this blog forever! Deb, don’t worry, you’re not that “broccoli slaw” person. I know because I made your broccoli slaw for the first time this weekend (okay, I did add some bacon…) and had two separate people ask for the recipe. It was great! This pasta salad looks equally delightful. While I enjoy a good mayonnaise-based salad dressing, I abhor grocery store macaroni salads almost always, except for the one sold at The Kiva in Eugene, Oregon, which I would pay serious money for if I could figure out the recipe!

  46. Ali

    Best pasta salad: my Mom’s Noodles Nicoise: spaghetti, oil-packed tuna, green peas, cherry tomatoes, and black olives wrapped in an oil and vinegar dressing. Simple, but satisfying.

    Worst pasta salad: a school bbq where it was crunchy elbow macaroni stirred into gloopily over-mayoed supermarket deli coleslaw…

  47. SandyH

    Pasta salads are hard to get just right. I myself have made some that are not necessarily awful, but just “meh” I don’t mind a mayo-based one at all, after all, this is what we grow up on in Texas, “macaroni salad” with hard boiled eggs, mayo, mustard, relish, salt and pepper, sometimes cheese cubes! I could eat my weight in it, if it’s done right.

  48. Kathryn Kraepel

    The best pasta salad I’ve had is called Mediterranean Pasta Salad by Lorraine Platman at Sweet Lorraine’s Restaurant, Southfield, MI. I tried to copy it by taste…..I used tricolor rotini with shrimp, feta, kalamata olives, sliced. Then an olive oil and lemon dressing with lots of fresh herbs from my garden (basil, chives, parsley, etc.) chopped and mixed in the dressing with some pressed garlic, S&P. I dress the salad, chill, and then usually add more lemon juice at serving.
    YUM. I don’t want to remember the bad pasta salads but I am usually afraid of them unless I know the cook.

  49. Joan McIntire

    Deb,
    I love the pasta shown in the photo! It is not easy to locate that kind here on the west coast, but the little ridges make one of the most lovely and flavorful macaroni and cheese dishes. Twisted Sage Cafe makes a “Three Cheese Mac’n’cheese” dish that uses this type of pasta, and it is just the best thing ever! I wonder where I can find Setaro’s pastas out here…
    I can’t wait to try the charred eggplant and walnut pesto salad–it looks fantastic!
    Thank you…

  50. Jane

    Those boxed pasta salad mixes from the 80s (Suddenly Salad? Maybe something with the word “pastabilities”?) with gritty vinaigrette mix and limp rotini nearly put me off the genre for life.

    But a few years ago I made a salad with orzo, marinated artichoke hearts, sundried tomato, and some kalamata olives. The dressing was chopped up preserved lemon, lemon juice, olive oil and a bit of garlic. The preserved lemon kept it from being too heavy and oily. Plus: no mayo-induced picnic health hazards!

  51. Susan

    My favorite pasta salad is Barefoot Contessa’s pasta with pesto and peas! Such a good combination of textures and flavors!

  52. JP

    @#62Joan McIntire- on the West coast (at least in CA) you can by Creamette’s Radiatore. I have it in my cupboard right now. Looks a lot like Deb’s once it is cooked. Good luck!

  53. Sarah

    The worst pasta salad I’ve ever had was at my grandmother’s wake in extremely rural Michigan. It was like you had described kugel to someone who had never met a Jew before and they attempted to make it with an overabundance of mayo and … maraschino cherries. *shudders*

    I do really enjoy the Asian slaw with ramen in it that seems to be at all potlucks lately, but I guess that counts as more of a slaw than a pasta salad.

  54. I’m not a fan of pasta salads, but this actually sounds like something I might eat. I love roasted or grilled eggplant. Also, I love choosing pasta shapes, and I just put “twirly” or “stabby” on my grocery list depending on what I’m making.

  55. shannon

    thanks – sounds lovely. we have to be a nut free house – have you come across any seeds that work well as a walnut substitute in this form?

  56. shunji asari

    This dish looks great. My question may show what a novice I am, but what is the reason for cooking the pasta only until it is almost done. Does this mean until there is a tiny core of uncooked pasta? Thanks.

    1. deb

      shunji asari — Yes, “al dente” (the Italain term) will have a little bite left to it. Italians (and also me) hate mushy pasta; they want it to hold up, be something you bite into. If you cook pasta until 1 minute before it is done, it will be al dente. If you do it for 2 minutes, when it sits in a sauce (or dressing) that it will absorb, it shouldn’t get overly soft.

  57. Vidya

    This has got to be a joke. Walnut pesto, grilled/fried eggplant and all of the pasta are three of my desert island foods. This can also be easily veganized and still be super flavorful which is great for my animal-eschewing friends. Worst pasta salad – anything from the deli section of any supermarket ever. These purchases have never been my idea. I have however sampled too many tasteless mayo-laden “salads” in my lifetime. Best pasta salad – this one, probably. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Ottolenghi pesto-style one you posted, it just fell really flat for me, but the concept is great (and similar to this one) and I think it could be a strong contender with some tweaking. Growing up, I also remember making this pasta salad from a Hare Krishna vegetarian cookbook by Kurma Dasa – I don’t remember all of the details but it involved fettucine, cubes of cream cheese, roasted red peppers, toasted walnuts and a mustardy dressing. Super weird but delicious. And no mayo in sight. Hare Krishnas don’t eat eggs. Whew.

  58. Sara

    Too much mayo is what kills so many pasta salads. Deli case pasta salads – ekk!

    My favorite is my grandmother’s (via her mother, so I guess my great-grandmother’s) cold pimiento cheese macaroni salad. Homemade pimiento cheese, overnight melding of flavors, raw onion for just smallest bit of bite. Yes.

  59. Gail McMillan

    I made this salad two nights ago for dinner. WOW. It might be the best pasta salad ever served. Flavorful, satisfying, a real keeper, but hard to stop eating it. Thank you for ignoring the mayo route! Can’t wait to make your butterscotch popsicles which should be fantastic here in Florida.

  60. Gail McMillan

    Whoops and btw one of my new favorite cookbooks is Made in India from which you posted your version of one pan chicken tikka marsala. I encourage you to make more from this cookbook-fresh, fairly simple, tasty Indian food.

  61. Callie Doggett

    The worst ever — anything made with cold pasta, watery dressing, and indifferent, julienned vegetables.

    I have strong opinions about making salads from hot v. cold pasta, rice, and potatoes. Many chefs say never use a starch base when it’s still hot; it’ll act like a sponge and soak up the liquid ingredients. At least for me, that absorption is the very reason to go with hot; a starch tastes so much better after it’s sopped-up a flavorful sauce or dressing. Cold starch doesn’t assimilate and can have a slimy texture.

  62. Ivana

    Tried this recipe the day it came out, and me and my boyfriend gobbled up the full 4-person portion in one sitting! A total masterpiece!

  63. Sandy

    I made a special trip to the fancy supermarket on the nice side of town just to get the right pasta shape for this recipe. The trip was well worth it – this is an amazing pasta dish. I appreciate your special instructions for us non-grillers. Even though my tiny suburban backyard would be a perfectly appropriate grilling locale, I feel uneasy around flames (I blame my dad, the former volunteer firefighter….pretty sure I’ve been hearing fire safety lectures since I was in the womb). Thanks for another winner of a recipe, Deb!

  64. Just made this tonight, loved it – flavor was as complex as promised. I didn’t toast the walnuts, veggie I used was zucchini (oven roasted) , and I used some pan fried homemade paneer as the cheese addition. Also used a small amount of pasta, maybe 1/4 lb. Finally, I added some cilantro and mint at the end. Incredibly delicious, will definitely make again!

  65. Teresa

    I tried this recipe last night, and it was amazing. Walnut pesto was a real eye opener, and I think I will make a batch and jar it for later, as I do with regular basil pesto. I used zucchini instead of eggplant because of my husband, and it worked great, but it was a bit more watery, so I adjusted the liquid in the dressing. I tried ricotta salata on a tiny portion, and I chose not to use it, because this along with the parmesan just made it too salty for me. I used some fresh mozarella instead, and it was perfect. I’ll try regular ricotta next time to give it a creamier texture.

  66. Barbara

    Made this exactly as called for in the recipe. Outrageously good! thank you Deb! Used quite a bit more Sherry vinegar on mine but hubby liked his as prepapred. Will make this a lot in the future…again, really, REALLY good…

  67. anna

    I can’t find ricotta salata anywhere so I used feta, and I added a chopped red pepper for more veg. Next time I would double the eggplant, and possibly chop it into large (1 in x 1 in) chunks before roasting.

  68. Shannon

    This is going on next week’s menu! I make pasta salads often (always dressed in a vinaigrette and loaded with fresh herbs and veggies), so that’s what I always have in mind when someone volunteers to bring pasta salad to a potluck – and there’s no heartbreak like expecting that and getting mayo-frosted glop instead. Surprisingly, though, one of my favorite pasta salads is dressed with a lemon aioli: it’s a specialty at A Southern Season, a fabulous shop/restaurant/cooking school in Chapel Hill, NC. Along with the aioli and penne pasta, it contains basil, red pepper and smoked fresh mozzarella. (mmm – now I want some!). The worst is that box kind that contains a seasoning packet you mix with mayo, so you get the horrible combo of mouthfuls of flavorless mayo plus hard little bits of dessicated vegetables.

  69. Bridget

    Last summer I made a spicy walnut & parsley pesto with the end of my parsley harvest. This reminded me of that but even better. A delicious recipe and a winner with kids and parents alike at last night’s BBQ (doubled, which was very easy). I found that reserving a 1/4-1/2 c of pasta water helped pull it together without the addition of more oil. Finally, I tossed the pesto with the pasta in the still-hot pasta pot to soften the garlic flavor a bit. Any tips on reheating?

  70. This was a big YES for us. My kids tend to be anti-eggplant so I made this with zucchini, but otherwise exactly as written and it was amazing. I’m literally eating the leftovers for lunch as I type. So so good. Thanks!

  71. gmg

    Ooh, definitely going to make this with either eggplant, zucchini or maybe even both. In the meantime, I am enjoying all the “worst pasta salad” ever comments — and also finding all the mayo references intriguing, because in my neck of the woods (rural Vermont), we would never call a mayo-based salad with elbows “pasta salad.” Pasta salad has a vinaigrette-based dressing and usually rotini or similar. The one with the elbows, tuna or faux crabmeat, eggs, celery, peas, salt, pepper and paprika — the preferred recipe of old-timers who look askance at that fancy newfangled vinaigrette rotini whatnot — is always, always called “macaroni salad.” (Old Vermonters love their macaroni.)

    1. deb

      Minna — It keeps fairly well for a dressed salad, but if you’re nervous, there’s no harm in waiting until shortly before you eat it to mix it.

  72. Rebecca

    Made this last night. Used nutritional yeast instead of Parmesan cheese, and a recipe for vegan ricotta which is made from soaked macadamia nuts, lemon juice, and miso paste. I also grilled mushrooms with the eggplant and it was fantastic! Thank you again for another great recipe idea!

  73. Nancy

    What an utterly delicious recipe! Just made it tonight with the chicken gyro salad for a barbeque and we loved it. What a great combination, thank you so much Deb!

  74. Brittany

    I made this yesterday for a bbq, and everyone really enjoyed it! I didn’t want to bring pasta salad covered in mayo. This was a much fresher alternative and easy to make. Thanks for the recipe!

  75. Kelly Poor

    I love this recipe! Nothing is better than eggplant on the grill in the summer and the recipe combines such tasty ingredients to make such a satisfying and addictive pasta salad that doesn’t feel heavy.

  76. Amy

    The best pasta salad is Ina Garten’s Orzo with Roasted vegetable pasta salad. It’s amazing as is – with Orzo and feta – but I make it with fusilli or penne, mozzarella, no pine nuts and no scallions. It’s great warm or cold!

  77. Clare

    I made this as written but added coins of the baby zucchini that Trader Joe’s has, for some crunch! Delicious!

  78. Janae

    This was absolutely, utterly delicious. I added zucchini along with the eggplant, but otherwise followed exactly as written. Quick question: is there a reason the sundried tomatoes can’t be processed with the walnut mixture? I found them super hard to chop, let alone mince.

  79. This was great! Doubled the garlic, tripled the herbs, added a few more chopped sundried tomatoes, and left out the ricotta salata (something we don’t get in India). I also made the full amount of sauce for 1/3 pound of pasta and next time I would double the eggplant. Loved how creamy the walnut pesto was.

  80. Mariel

    I made this tonight for dinner and added a roasted squash and some cherry tomatoes that needed to be eaten. It was so good! Such an adaptable dish to use up extra summer veggies laying around.

  81. Neville

    I made this! The pesto is to die for and I’m a huge fan of eggplant. Definitely beats the summer staple mayo drenched pasta salads. I used feta cheese because that was what I had on hand and less fancy pasta. Still delicious.

    Thanks:)

  82. alexandriagrown

    I’ve made this twice – once using feta and then once with no cheese (except the Parmesan in the dressing). Delicious both ways! I highly recommend this recipe!

  83. Susan

    I made this last week, and it was a hit! I, too, used feta, because I could not find ricotta salata and was not going to drive around in the hellacious heat anymore looking for it. I also added some cut-in-half cherry tomatoes that I got at the farmers market and needed to use up. I think they added a nice fresh contrast to the pesto and eggplant. Will make it again and again!

  84. Krispyecca

    This was yummy! I used eggplant as per the recipe, but I think any vegetable you wanted to use would work well. Also, I saved a little of the pasta water and used this to thin the pesto, did not need extra oil/vinegar.

  85. Abbie C

    I have been dying to make this since you posted the recipe! I finally made this for dinner tonight and it’s fantastic! My husband said,”I wish I could eat this every day!” We loved the mix of flavors! I couldn’t find ricotta salata, so I used goat cheese, which worked well with the other flavors. Thanks for another wonderful recipe!!

  86. Kathy

    Hi! My partner is allergic to tree nuts but this recipe sounds so delicious! Do you have any recommendations about what to use instead of walnuts in the pesto? Thanks!

    1. deb

      Perhaps pine nuts? They’re not actually nuts but seeds, yes? (Please verify this, of course, I’m not an authority, but if not pine nuts, certainly sunflower seeds might be nice here.)

      1. Kathy

        Thanks Deb!

        Just as a note about the comments section. Your answer to my question doesn’t appear in the “I Have a Question” tab but I feel that if you’re looking there it would be helpful to see the answer to someone’s question! Just wanted to flag it for you!

  87. Nicole

    I just made this for dinner tonight and it is definitely one of the better meals I have made in awhile. So full of flavor and felt healthy eating it too. Deb– you should put this one in your cookbook! The best part is that this recipe is flexible and adaptable– didn’t have fresh thyme but did have a bit of basil around so I substituted that. Also left out the vinegar because I forgot. And subbed feta as others recommended since that is what I had already at home. Will definitely make again (and again).

  88. Amy

    I know this said it was for summer days and beach picnics, but it’s winter here in South Africa. I made this last night (replacing the ricotta with a heavier cheese), had it warm, and it was as comforting and delicious as any winter dish I’ve ever had. The walnut pesto is a revelation…feel like I need to eat this at least once a week now!

  89. This is my husband’s new favorite pasta. Every time he had it in his lunchbox, I’d get a text that basically said “Holy s*$%, that eggplant pasta!” So I think you have a winner here!

    This is especially great for a super-hot day like the ones that we’ve been having as of late.

  90. amykinslynn

    Hi Deb,
    Did you re-hydrate the sun-dried tomatoes first in hot water (the ones I have are not oil-packed, just dried)? Mine seem tough and I’m worried they will stay hard in the pesto. Do they just soften in the oil of the pesto?
    Thanks!!
    -Amy

  91. Kate

    This is so, so addicting. Super satisfying and light, but filling. I swapped out half the pasta with roasted cauliflower to make it lower carb, and used a high-protein pasta. This will be my lunch for the week! I also used feta instead of ricotta salata. I get the feeling you can play with this recipe and take it in different directions and it will still be fantastic.

  92. Megan

    This was really good! I used slender eggplants, and cut them in half lengthwise for grilling–less flipping over a hot grill. I thinned the pesto with pasta water, which worked really well, it was creamy and perfect. Thanks for another winner!

  93. smathes1

    I made this exactly as written (cooking eggplant in the oven, using red pepper flakes) and would give it 9/10– definitely would make again, just found it needing a little more punch. (For the record, I like my dishes very acidic, so maybe I’m biased.) I tripled (at least) the vinegar to finish, but was thinking that the tang of feta or goat cheese would be great, or maybe even the addition of capers. Loved the bits of eggplant that had gotten a bit too crispy/charred, which makes me think I should have chopped some toasted nuts to give the dish some crunch. Excellent recipe, and it came together more quickly than I expected!

  94. Emily Haynes

    This is super yummy! The vinegar takes it to the next level with a nice bright finish. I added about 1/3 cup pasta water when I mixed it all together at the end, instead of more oil. Worked beautifully.

  95. This was incredible! I used feta and took a few shortcuts, due to ingredients I didn’t have: balsamic instead of sherry vinegar, no thyme, and no sundried tomatoes. Instead, I roasted some cherry tomatoes and tossed them in with the salad—I also used pasta water to thin the pesto, per others’ recommendations. This was my first-ever eggplant, and I was afraid that it wasn’t charred enough after the time in the oven, but it ended up tasting amazing! I can’t wait to eat more!

  96. Erin

    So good! The pesto is awesome and perfectly complements the eggplant. Still delicious even without the thyme (which I never seem to have on hand). I’ve made this with both ricotta salata and feta, and both are good. Would definitely recommend- great for work lunches!