We're sort of in a weird time of the year right now. Everyone is itching for it to be fall but it's still not quite there yet. Although I'm one of those people waiting for cooler days, I'm still not ready to say goodbye to summer produce. Heck, I just ordered 2 more pounds of peaches! So, I'm using up the last of the ripe cherry tomatoes and sweet bell peppers to make this delicious romesco orzo pasta salad. With plenty of flavor from the homemade romesco sauce, fresh herbs, chili, feta, and roasted tomatoes, this pasta salad truly takes the cake.
Romesco Orzo Pasta Salad
- 1 bell pepper
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes halved
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 2 garlic cloves
- ¼ cup sliced almonds toasted
- ¼ cup hazelnuts toasted
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
- ½ cup olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 2 tbsp oil
- 1 eggplant diced
- ½ red onion thinly sliced
- 1 cup orzo
- 4 Calabrian chilies sliced
- ¼ cup feta crumbled
- ¼ cup pine nuts toasted
- 2 tbsp dill chopped
- 2 tbsp parsley chopped
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
- Toss the halved cherry tomatoes with 1 tbsp olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet in an even layer. Place the bell pepper on a baking sheet. Roast the vegetables for 15 minutes or until the tomatoes are softened and the bell pepper is charred. Reserve half of the tomatoes and set them aside. Transfer the bell pepper into a container and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit for 10 minutes. Remove the cover and remove the skin and discard the seeds.
- Blend the bell pepper with half of the cherry tomatoes, 2 garlic cloves, ¼ cup toasted almonds, ¼ cup toasted hazelnuts, ½ tsp red pepper flakes, 1 tsp paprika, and 1 tbsp sherry vinegar. With the blender running, slowly add ½ cup olive oil. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.
- Heat 2 tbsp oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Cook the diced eggplant and sliced red onion until softened and caramelized, about 8-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
- Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add 1 cup orzo and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain and add the orzo to the cooked eggplant and red onion. Add the reserved cherry tomatoes, Calabrian chilies, and romesco sauce. Stir gently until combined. Top with crumbled feta, pine nuts, fresh dill, and parsley. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
**Helpful tips and common mistakes
If you're like me, the last thing you want is yet another boring pasta salad. Last year, I whipped together a cherry tomato confit pasta salad that changed my mind on pasta salads. This year, I took that idea and gave it a spin by creating this romesco orzo pasta salad. Let me cut to the end and just tell you right now, this is truly delicious.
Let's start by roasting the cherry tomatoes. When you roast tomatoes, they become concentrated and the flavors become more intense. If you don't like fresh tomatoes, you might just fall in love with roasted ones. While the tomatoes are roasting, go ahead and roast the bell pepper for the romesco sauce too.
Once the bell pepper is softened and charred, place it in a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. The steam will help loosen the skin, making it easier to peel. After about ten minutes, carefully remove the cover, and pull off the skin. As my chef instructor once told me, never wash away the skin! This will also wash away all the flavor.
Use half of those lovely tomatoes and blend them up with the roasted bell pepper, garlic, toasted almonds, toasted hazelnuts, red pepper flakes, paprika, and sherry vinegar. Slowly add the oil while the blender is running to thicken the sauce. Season the romesco with salt and pepper and set it aside.
Now it's time to prepare the rest of the pasta salad. Saute diced eggplant and cook until it's caramelized, about 8-10 minutes. If you're not a fan of eggplant, you can simply omit it or swap it for some roasted zucchini, summer squash, caramelized onions (yum!), or even roasted brussels sprouts.
Cook the orzo until al dente and toss it together with the eggplant, reserved cherry tomatoes, and romesco sauce. I added some Calabrian chilies for some heat but you can skip this if you prefer. Finish the pasta salad with pine nuts, crumbled feta, and a good handful of fresh dill and parsley.
And there you have it, folks! This romesco orzo pasta salad is a great transition dish from summer to fall. It utilizes summer's great harvest but also is the perfect comfort dish. Seconds anyone?