Sun Dried Tomato Pasta Salad

Hands down the best. pasta. salad. ever. This is a mandatory 4th of July staple—heck, we eat it all year ’round. Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Family Style.

bowl of pasta salad with sun dried and cherry tomatoes and a fork with spilled pastaPasta isn’t a dirty word in our house. You can say it and eat it as many times as you want. And pasta salad? Having that in the fridge is a pass to grab a fork and nab a bite or two. I feel like pasta salad was invented in the 80’s, amiright? This version isn’t your typical oil and vinegar based pasta salad. This pasta salad has a dressing that is more like a sauce and performs magic when it meets the pasta.

pasta and tortellini in a white bowl with cherry tomatoes, sundried tomatoes and feta on a blue platter and dressing in a measuring cup

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Choosing the perfect Pasta for salad

Oh—the pasta. Have you noticed that choosing the right kind of pasta is critical when making pasta salad? You need a pasta that is going to hug the sauce. Like the cavatappi here, or rotini, fusilli, orecchiette. And the tortellini I added? So necessary. I’ve made this salad many times with all tortellini. And it’s preferred by some members of my house to the point where this year I was greeted with a “What! Why so few tortellini?” I didn’t see them missing them too much from the size of their second helping.

The well-dressed Pasta Salad

The dressing for this salad is made in the blender. As you add all the ingredients, you can’t believe how it comes together and becomes this intense red color. You might worry for a sec that your salad is going to take on the same color but trust me, it incorporates nicely over the pasta. One of the secret ingredients in the dressing is the capers. Please whatever you do- don’t leave out the capers. They get blended up in the dressing and the brininess and saltiness is critical to the flavor of the dressing. Speaking of the flavor, it’s ok to go heavy-handed on the garlic as well. The garlic rounds everything out and works so well with the ingredients in the dish.

cherry tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes and fresh mozzarella on a blue platter and red white and blue napkinPrimo Pasta Salad Ingredients

This pasta salad is pretty simple on the ingredient front. Two kinds of tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and a whole bunch of basil. The recipe calls for black olives—you can add them in. My Italian card should probably be revoked for not loving black olives. The flavor and the brininess they add to dishes is awesome, no question. More often than not, I find they get picked out of this salad, especially if you have a bunch of younger guests. Go right ahead and add them. You know your tribe!

Here are some other ingredients that I love adding to pasta salad in general and this one as well:

  • foolproof chicken takes this to a main course
  • chunks of salami or spicy sopressata
  • the aforementioned black olives
  • chunks of Italian fontinella or a sharp provolone
  • drained, jarred artichokes

three white bowls with pasta salad on a gray napkinThe Secrets to great pasta salad

  • Undercook your pasta by about 2-3 minutes.
  • Don’t run your pasta under cold water. You might hear that you should but don’t. You want that starch to grab on to the sauce.
  • Add all the ingredients to the pasta before tossing with the dressing EXCEPT any Parmesan cheese and basil. Save that for the finish.
  • Reserve a little sauce/dressing to the side before tossing the pasta. The pasta absorbs a lot of dressing especially if you make it ahead of time. Adding some right before serving gives it another layer of flavor and prevents it from being dryer.


For a crowd: This pasta salad is great served in small cups on a buffet. you also could skewer tortellini, tomatoes and basil and use the dressing as a dip for the skewer.

For a few: Make this pasta salad at the beginning of the week and you’ll have it for lunches all week long. It’s a great meal prep dish.

Made this recipe?

I’d love it if you’d share your review and leave a star rating and comment!

three white bowls with pasta salad on a gray napkin.
5 from 4 votes

Sun Dried Tomato Pasta Salad

Your search for the perfect pasta salad has ended. Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa.
Prep Time:15 minutes
Cook Time:10 minutes
Total Time:25 minutes
Servings 10


Salad Ingredients

Dressing Ingredients


For the salad

  • Bring a large stockpot to boil. Add a healthy amount of kosher salt right before adding the pasta. If using tortellini, either cook in a separate pan or add a few minutes later so that all the pasta ends up cooking at the same time.
  • Boil according to the package directions, checking it around 2 minutes before it's expected to be done.
  • Drain the pasta in a colander and set aside till cool.
  • Once the pasta is cool, add half of it to a large wide serving bowl along with half of the chopped tomatoes and cheese. Toss lightly and then add the remaining pasta, tomatoes and cheese.

For the dressing

  • Add all the dressing ingredients to a blender and process until smooth and incorporated.

Assemble the salad

  • Toss the salad with 3/4 of the dressing, setting aside the remaining dressing if you're not serving it immediately.
  • Add the Parmesan and basil and toss lightly. Garnish with more Parm and basil.


  • If using tortellini, double the quantity. Cook according to package directions in boiling, salted water.
  • Feel free to experiment with pastas that are made from alternative grains, veggies or are plant-based. 
Course: Pasta, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: Italian
Author: Lori Murphy
Did you make this recipe? Tag @josieandnina or tag #josieandnina!
5 from 4 votes (4 ratings without comment)

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    1. Hi Lisa – I usually use plain black olives since the capers have a lot of extra flavor and salt but you could try kalamata as well!