Blistered-Tomato Pasta Salad With Basil

Pasta salad gets a thoughtful upgrade by cooking the tomatoes just until bursting so that they release their rich juices into a flavorful sauce.

Cooked-until-bursting tomatoes make a beautiful sauce for this summery pasta salad.

Serious Eats / Daniel Gritzer

Why This Recipe Works

  • Overcooking the pasta ensures that it will firm back up to the perfect al dente stage when cooled.
  • Bursting the tomatoes intensifies their flavor while creating a sauce that coats the pasta beautifully.

A couple of days ago I unveiled my invective against pasta salad as it's typically made, and offered a new set of rules to guarantee far better results, along with a chorizo-flavored recipe demonstrating some of those principles. Today I'm sharing one more simple recipe for a light and summery pasta salad that also follows my new guidelines. It features fusilli with tomatoes that I've blistered in a hot pan with garlic and olive oil, plus plenty of fresh basil.

It's a riff on a more common summer tomato pasta salad made with raw tomatoes, but here I'm following my directive to avoid raw vegetables (see Rule #1, Subsection B: Save the Raw Vegetables for Crudités) by cooking the tomatoes just enough for them to burst and release their juices into a flavorful sauce that coats the pasta. I'm actually not 100% against using raw tomatoes in a pasta salad—I think it can work if they are supremely ripe, juicy, and flavorful, but that's a rarity these days. In most cases, cooking the tomatoes will get you better, more delicious results.

To make it, I start by cooking my pasta, in this case it's fusilli bucati, which has a really enjoyable spring-like form, but regular fusilli works as well. I overcook the pasta by at least a few minutes. This is not an accident: When I subsequently drain it and chill it with cold running water, the pasta firms up and return to a desirable al dente texture. If you only cook the pasta to the al dente stage and then chill it, it will be too firm (see Rule #3: Overcook Your Pasta).

For the sauce, I heat sliced garlic in olive oil until it just starts to bubble and sizzle a little. Then I add cherry and/or grape tomatoes to the pan and crank the heat up to high. A mix of tomatoes will make a more beautiful presentation (and also helps deliver the best tomato flavor, as I found when testing tomatoes for fresh sauce), but don't worry if you only have one type.

You should toss the mixture around frequently to prevent the garlic from burning as the tomatoes heat up. Pretty soon the tomato skins will split and burst, releasing juices into the pan (which will also ensure the garlic doesn't burn). You can take a wooden spoon and press on some of them to help them along, though I try not to mash them too much since I want some big tomato chunks in the final dish.

You end up with a lovely, light, fresh-tasting tomatoey sauce that will coat the pasta beautifully, just the way we want it. I've also avoided adding vinegar to the sauce as you might for a vinaigrette or salad dressing, since I think the pasta tastes best without that extra acidity (refer to Rule #1, Subsection A: Sauce It, Don't Dress It).

Just toss the cool pasta with the sauce, add some fresh olive oil and toss in the basil. You could do all of this in advance except for the basil, then refrigerate the salad for a few hours or even overnight and return it to room temperature before adding the basil with a refreshing splash of olive oil.

I didn't do it here, but you could certainly add diced mozzarella to make this a little less light and a little more indulgent (make sure to add the mozzarella after the tomatoes have completely cooled to prevent it from melting and clumping). Just please do me a favor and don't add cubes of Gouda (if you're not sure why, refer back to Rule #4: Think Before You Cheese).

June 2015

Recipe Details

Blistered-Tomato Pasta Salad With Basil

Active 25 mins
Total 25 mins
Serves 6 to 8 servings

Pasta salad gets a thoughtful upgrade by cooking the tomatoes just until bursting so that they release their rich juices into a flavorful sauce.


  • 1 pound dried pasta, such as fusilli bucati or regular fusilli

  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling

  • 8 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced

  • 2 pints mixed cherry and/or grape tomatoes

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 15-20 basil leaves, torn

  • 3/4 pound fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (optional)


  1. In a pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta until very tender throughout, 2 to 3 minutes longer than al dente stage according to package. Drain in a colander, then chill under cold running water. Let drain well, then drizzle lightly with olive oil and toss to coat. Set aside.

  2. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil with garlic over medium heat until garlic begins to sizzle lightly. Increase heat to high and add tomatoes. Cook, tossing frequently, until tomato skins split, burst, and release some juices, about 5 minutes; you can gently press on some of the tomatoes with a wooden spoon to help them along, but avoid mashing them. Season with salt and pepper.

    A four-image collage showing the tomato sauce being made. The top left image shows sliced garlic and hot olive oil in a stainless steep pan. The top right image shows cherry tomatoes added to the pan whole. The bottom left image shows the cherry tomatoes being tossed and starting to break open. The bottom right image shows the cherry tomatoes now fully breaking down so that a sauce is forming from the liquid being released.

    Serious Eats / Daniel Gritzer

  3. In a large bowl, toss pasta with tomatoes, garlic, and their sauce, along with the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil and basil. Season with salt and pepper. Once cooled, add mozzarella, if using, and toss to combine. Serve at room temperature, adding additional olive oil as necessary to refresh noodles. Pasta salad can be made up to 1 day in advance without basil and kept refrigerated; return to room temperature, toss in basil, and refresh with more olive oil before serving.

    A white porcelain bowl holding blistered tomato pasta salad.

    Serious Eats / Daniel Gritzer

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
319 Calories
11g Fat
46g Carbs
8g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6 to 8
Amount per serving
Calories 319
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 11g 14%
Saturated Fat 2g 8%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 244mg 11%
Total Carbohydrate 46g 17%
Dietary Fiber 3g 10%
Total Sugars 4g
Protein 8g
Vitamin C 11mg 57%
Calcium 27mg 2%
Iron 2mg 12%
Potassium 319mg 7%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)