Pasta salad is one of those things I really only eat in the summer. In the winter, I’m all about hot pasta with marinara sauce or some creamy pesto. But in the summer, with frequent cookouts with my family, pasta salad just seems so appropriate.
This salad came about due to my love of basil. When I was younger, I used to hate basil and wouldn’t touch any dish that had strong basil flavor. As I got older, I learned to appreciate the flavor of basil, and now I love it.
I even bought a basil plant at the beginning of the summer, hoping to use the leaves in lots of recipes. For a few weeks, it was really nice having fresh basil at my disposal whenever I needed it. After about a month, though, it started to dry out and always looked limp, even when I kept it moist and let it get enough sunlight. And now, it looks like this:
… Oops. Needless to say, I was not blessed with the green thumb. Yeah…
Anyway, onto the food!
This pasta salad features a thick, creamy sauce made from basil, feta cheese, garlic, and a couple other spices. I was a big fan of the sauce. It’s similar to classic basil pesto, but with the addition of tangy and salty feta cheese. Feta cheese has always been one of my favorites. Like most other cheeses, it is fatty, but I recently realized feta has a lot of protein – 7g per 1/4 cup! So, while it should still be eaten in moderation, at least you’re getting your protein and calcium.
I also added fresh tomatoes and sweet peppers to the pasta for a little crunch, but you can add any type of veggie your heart desires.
Basil-Feta Pasta Salad
Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
- For the pasta:
- 1 box pasta of choice (I used penne)
- 1 large tomato, diced (or 1-2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved)
- 1 large bell pepper, diced
- For the sauce:
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves (stems removed), rinsed and roughly chopped
- 1/3 cup + 2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
- 1 Tbsp vinegar (I used apple cider)
- 1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic
- 1/2 shallot, finely diced
- 7 oz. hunk of feta cheese (or about ~1 1/2 cups crumbled), cut into small chunks
- 2 Tbsp fresh grated parmesan cheese
- 1/2 tsp oregano
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- pepper, to taste (the cheese is pretty salty so you’ll probably find you don’t need any more salt)
- Cook pasta according to box directions. Rinse with cold water and let drain.
- In your food processor, add chopped basil, 1/3 cup olive oil, vinegar, garlic, and shallot. If you have a small food processor, you may need to add some of the basil, blend it to break it down, and then add more. Pulse until well-combined, scraping down the sides when necessary.
- Add feta and parmesan cheese (I did this in two batches) and blend again until smooth. If it’s too thick, add another Tbsp of olive oil, or a small amount of water. Add oregano, red pepper flakes, and pepper. Pulse a few more times.
- Add basil-feta sauce to cooled pasta and stir well. Note: you may not need all of the sauce – I used ~3/4 of it (it made about 1 cup), so I’d recommend adding some, stirring, and then seeing if you need more. It may also be necessary to add extra olive oil at this point to loosen up the pasta.
- Add diced tomatoes and peppers and stir. Serve immediately or chill for a few hours (it also tastes great heated up!). Leftovers should be eaten within 3-4 days.
I had this pasta salad as a side dish, and also served it as a meal with diced grilled chicken. Yum. The sauce would also be delicious on a sandwich or a pizza!