I've never been a big fan of pasta salad. Pasta covered in mayo with small morsels of vegetables just doesn't toot my horn. However, this quickly changed when I tried pasta salad at a quaint little deli. With the right amount of vinegar, olive oil, and a hefty amount of fresh herbs and vegetables, this side dish can easily become the star. I wanted to put the phrase "farm to table" in full effect with this recipe by using the flavors of cherry tomatoes to season the pasta. Introducing cherry tomato confit pasta salad with caramelized leeks, pan-seared halloumi, fresh parsley, basil, and pistachios. This dish is a winner, even to a pasta-salad-hater like myself.
Cherry Tomato Confit Pasta Salad
Cherry tomato confit
- 1 lb cherry tomatoes
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 5 garlic cloves sliced
- 3 sprigs thyme
- 1 lb fusilli pasta
- 2 leeks
- 8 ounce halloumi
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- juice of ½ lemon
- 1 tsp granulated sugar
- ⅓ cup fresh parsley chopped
- ¼ cup fresh basil chopped
- ¼ cup pistachios chopped
- salt and pepper
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
- Toss together cherry tomatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and thyme. Spread on a baking sheet and bake for 30-40 minutes or until the tomatoes are softened, stirring the tomatoes halfway through the cooking process.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season the water with salt and add the fusilli pasta. Cook the pasta according to the box's instructions. Drain the pasta, rinse under cold water and drain. Toss with 1 tsp oil.
- Prepare the leeks. Cut the green stalks off and discard. Slice the white stems in half lengthwise and wash in between the layers. Thinly slice the leeks. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the leeks and saute until browned and caramelized. If the pan becomes too dry, reduce the heat and add 1-2 tbsp of water. Remove from heat.
- In the same pan, add the halloumi and fry on both sides until golden brown. Remove from heat and cut into bite-size chunks.
- Drain the tomatoes, reserving the oil. Whisk together the remaining oil with red wine vinegar, juice of ½ lemon, sugar, salt, and pepper. Toss together the cooked fusilli with the caramelized leeks, halloumi, cherry tomato confit, oil dressing, fresh herbs, and pistachios. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve warm, at room temperature or cold.
**Helpful tips and common mistakes
Tomato confit or confits, in general, take a long time to prepare. The idea behind confit is to cook an item slowly over a long period of time in fat. Duck confit is probably the most well-known version in which duck is cooked in duck fat at a low temperature for several hours. One cooked, the meat is cooled and packed in its own fat, a great way of preserving the duck. I'll be honest, duck confit is DELICIOUS. But if you're not a big duck fan, you can apply this cooking method to many other items such as chicken, garlic, mushrooms, and in today's recipe, tomatoes.
I know I just wrote a whole paragraph about how confit is done slowly on low heat, but let's be real, we're making a pasta salad. I didn't want to wait 2-3 hours for my tomatoes to be ready so I went the quick route and increased the oven temperature to 300 degrees F. Ready in about 40 minutes, these tomatoes are just as flavor-packed as the original method.
While the tomatoes are cooking, prepare everything else for the tomato confit pasta salad. Cook the noodles, caramelize the leeks, pan sear the halloumi, and chop the fresh herbs.
Halloumi is one of my favorite cheeses because of the crispy exterior it is able to achieve. This semi-hard cheese has a high melting point which makes it fantastic when fried or grilled. Do you know the crispy edges of grilled cheese? Imagine that but on the entire surface of the cheese. Heaven.
Toss everything together including the oils and juices from the tomatoes and finish seasoning the pasta salad with olive oil, red wine vinegar, sugar, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. I've served this cherry tomato confit pasta salad cold and at room temperature and enjoyed both. This salad is anything but heavy and yet still so flavorful with every component playing in its favor. This just may be the only way to eat pasta salad.