Giving pasta salad a Spanish spin and turning it into a delicious romesco orzo pasta salad with roasted tomatoes, charred eggplant, fresh herbs, crumbled feta, and Calabrian chilies. It's so delicious that you'll be going back for seconds and thirds!
Romesco Orzo Pasta Salad
- 1 bell pepper
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes halved
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 2 garlic cloves
- ¼ cup sliced almonds toasted
- ¼ cup hazelnuts toasted
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
- ½ cup olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 medium eggplant diced
- ½ medium red onion chopped
- 1 cup orzo
- 4 Calabrian chilies sliced
- ¼ cup feta crumbled
- ¼ cup pine nuts toasted
- ¼ cup dill chopped
- ¼ cup parsley chopped
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
- Toss the halved cherry tomatoes with 1 tablespoon of 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, garlic cloves, toasted almonds, toasted hazelnuts, red pepper flakes, paprika, and sherry vinegar. With the blender running, slowly add ½ cup olive oil. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Cook the diced eggplant and 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 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, crumbled feta, pine nuts, fresh dill, and parsley. Add romesco sauce and toss gently to combine. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
Watch how to make this:
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.
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 about 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.
- Bell pepper: One of the key ingredients of romesco sauce is roasted bell peppers. Use red bell pepper to produce the bright red color that is a signature of romesco sauce. If you would like to skip a step, you can use jarred roasted peppers.
- Cherry tomatoes: Tomatoes are another key ingredient for romesco sauce. You can use whole tomatoes instead of cherry tomatoes if you prefer.
- Nuts: The almonds and hazelnuts add flavor to the sauce while also thickening it and giving it a creamy texture. You can use only almonds or just hazelnuts if you prefer.
- Sherry vinegar: A type of vinegar made from sherry wine with a smooth, rich, nutty taste. Red wine vinegar can be used instead.
- Orzo: Due to its small size and tender texture, orzo is a great choice for pasta salad. You can also use macaroni, farfalle, or another type of small pasta.
- Eggplant: Although I used eggplant for this pasta salad, you can add or substitute it with other vegetables including roasted zucchini, broccoli, or Brussels sprouts.
- Calabrian chilies: These small, fiery red chili peppers have intense heat and fruity flavor. Although they are not particularly spicy, you can skip them if you want a milder pasta salad.
- Feta: The salty crumbled cheese adds umami to the pasta salad but can be omitted if desired. Goat cheese is another great option.
How to Make Romesco Orzo Pasta Salad
Step 1: Make romesco sauce
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.
Step 2: Cook salad ingredients
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 drain. If you're cooking the orzo ahead of time, drain the orzo and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process. Then, toss the pasta with 1 tablespoon of olive oil to prevent the orzo from sticking together.
Step 3: Putting it all together
Now that we have all of our pasta salad components ready, it's time to assemble. Toss the orzo together with the eggplant and onion, 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?
How can I prepare this romesco orzo pasta salad for meal prep?
You can fully prepare the entire salad, tossing all of the ingredients with romesco. When ready to serve, either enjoy cold, at room temperature or heat it up until warm.
What proteins would pair well with this salad?
Luckily, the possibilities are endless! You can serve this on the side of steak, grilled shrimp or salmon, roasted chicken, or even grilled tofu. If you want to make a complete meal out of this salad, top it with a protein of your choice and add fresh greens such as arugula.
How long will this salad stay fresh?
Keep the pasta salad in an air-tight container in the fridge and it should stay fresh for 3 days.
For more pasta salad inspiration check out this charred corn and zucchini pasta salad!