How to Make The Best Tomato-Basil Pasta Salad

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 here 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).