This Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta Salad with artichoke hearts is a bright and elegant recipe for summer entertaining or a meatless dinner.
I’m happy to report that almost a month, three additional batches, and a sun-dried tomato vinaigrette later, I have a pasta salad recipe to share with you that hits all the marks I was craving.
This Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta Salad combines a bright, rich vinaigrette with sautéed artichoke hearts, capers, toasted pine nuts, and shaved Pecorino Romano cheese. It’s tangy, a little bit sweet from the sun-dried tomatoes, salty, nutty, and perfect for a light dinner on a warm summer night.
Creating Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta Salad
When I started developing this recipe, I really wanted it to have a lemon-based vinaigrette, since I love the classic pairing of lemons and artichokes. So, I dressed my original recipe with a lemon-shallot vinaigrette and tossed it with thinly-sliced sun-dried tomatoes.
I kept testing and tweaking the recipe, and it while it was okay, I just wasn’t loving it.
One of the rules here on Striped Spatula is that if I don’t love it, I don’t post it. I’d never want readers to spend time and ingredients making a recipe that I don’t feel 100% jazz-handsy about.
As I tasted my fourth batch of this sun-dried tomato pasta salad, I realized that my tastebuds were searching for sun-dried tomatoes in every bite. Instead of chasing the slivers of tomatoes around the bowl, I needed to have that rich flavor accompany every piece of pasta.
So, I made a sun-dried tomato vinaigrette with lemon, Dijon, and fresh oregano. Batch 5 was exactly the pasta salad I was craving. The flavor was reminiscent of my favorite Pesto Rosso, but brighter and more summery.
Cooking Pasta for Pasta Salad
You can use just about any shape of pasta to make this sun-dried tomato pasta salad. In the general world of pasta salad, I like shorter cuts that can be easily eaten in a bite or two, such as penne, fusilli, orecchiette, and gemelli.
For this recipe, I used casarecce. The curled edges are great for trapping the vinaigrette and maximizing the flavor in each bite.
For pasta salad, I like to cook the pasta just past al dente. Since pasta salads are served chilled or at room temperature, the pasta will naturally have a firmer texture than when it’s hot out of the pot.
I find al dente pasta too chewy when it’s cooled. That said, you don’t want to cook the pasta so much that it becomes mushy and falls apart. For most cuts, just a minute or two past the normal cooking time does the trick.
Should I Rinse Pasta for Pasta Salad?
Cooks tend to have differing (and steadfast) opinions on whether or not pasta should be rinsed after cooking for a cold pasta salad.
I’ve done it many times. Rinsing cools the pasta quickly, and eliminates starches on the surface that can cause clumping when the pasta sits. That said, a cold or room temperature salad is the only time I rinse pasta.
Another option I’ve used is tossing the drained, hot pasta with a little bit of olive oil, and then spreading it onto baking sheets to cool. It doesn’t take that long, preserves the flavor and starches, and also alleviates clumping.
Either cooling technique will work well for this sun-dried tomato pasta salad recipe.
Canned vs. Frozen Artichoke Hearts
As much as I love fresh vegetables, cooking and cleaning fresh artichokes for a salad like this one is a lot of extra work. I wanted this pasta salad to be something that you could whip up on a whim on a warm summer night.
You can use either canned or frozen artichoke hearts in this recipe with good results.
If I had to choose between the two, my preference is for frozen. They’re a staple in my freezer for pasta dishes and dips.
While more economical and readily available than frozen artichoke hearts, un-marinated canned artichoke hearts are packed in a citric acid and salt brine to preserve their color. I find that the brine makes canned artichoke hearts a bit saltier and tangier than frozen, even after rinsing.
I’ve always felt that frozen artichoke hearts have a more artichoke-y flavor. The brand sold in my market also tend to hold their shape better than canned. I find them easier to roast and sauté to bring another layer of flavor to recipes such as this pasta salad.
But, in the spirit of relaxed summer eating, this salad is one that you can adapt to what your pantry and schedule will allow. Sit outside on the patio with a bowl and a crisp glass of wine and savor!
Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta Salad with Artichoke Hearts
Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette
- 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes , drained if using oil-packed (about 12 halves)
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 cloves garlic , peeled
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves (about 6-8 leaves)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper (medium grind)
- 1 pound short pasta , such as casarecce
- 1 pound frozen artichoke hearts , thawed and quartered*
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped shallots
- 3 tablespoons capers , drained
- 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes , cut into thin strips
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional, if you want the pasta to have a kick)
- 2 ounces toasted pine nuts
- 1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- 1/2 cup shaved Pecorino Romano , plus additional
- kosher salt and pepper to taste
Make the Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette
- In a food processor or blender, pulse sun-dried tomatoes, lemon juice, garlic, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper 5-6 times, until combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl or blender.
- With the mixer running, drizzle in olive oil in a steady stream. Add fresh oregano leaves and pulse to gently chop them up. You should have about 3/4 cup of vinaigrette. Set aside.
Make the Pasta Salad
- Cook pasta in salted, boiling water until al dente. Drain and rinse with cool water or lightly-coat with olive oil and spread out onto baking sheets to cool.
- While the pasta is cooking, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add artichoke hearts and a pinch or two of kosher salt and black pepper. Gently sauté for 5-8 minutes, flipping the artichokes sparingly, until they're light golden brown in parts.
- Deglaze the pan with a small splash of water or white wine and cook for 1 minute, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom.
- Remove from heat and stir in shallots, capers, sun-dried tomatoes, and red pepper flakes (if using). Set aside.
- When pasta is cooked and cooled, toss with the sun-dried tomato vinaigrette, artichoke mixture, pine nuts, herbs, and Pecorino Romano. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pasta salad is best enjoyed at room temperature.