We’re just on the cusp of tomato season here in the Midwest and I’m getting my best recipes ready to put them to good use. This Fresh Tomato-Basil Pasta Salad is one of my family’s favorites because it tastes great, it’s an easy way to use up ripe tomatoes, and it’s an ideal dinner to serve to the whole family. Plus, one batch feeds a crowd, so it’s a great dish to share with friends.
While we eat a lot of pesto pasta in the summer—Spinach or Kale Pesto is one of my favorite things to do with our garden greens since it’s one of the only ways my 3-year-old will reliably eat greens—this is our other go-to pasta salad. Tomatoes are a good warm weather produce pick because they contain a lot of water, so they help us stay hydrated when the temperature spikes, and they have a nice dose of the antioxidant lycopene.
For this pasta salad, you’ll want to find super ripe and flavorful tomatoes. I used grape tomatoes here since that’s what my daughter prefers, but you can use any that you like or have on hand—Roma, heirlooms, or other cherry tomatoes of any color. And the juicier the tomatoes, the better the pasta salad, so don’t worry if there’s a fair amount of liquid in the tomato mixture because the pasta will soak it up!
In addition to this recipe being easy and refreshing, it’s also a hit in my house because it’s easy for me to serve it to my daughter in a way that she likes—deconstructed. With dishes like these, that are clearly made with an assortment of ingredients, it helps her have a happier meal if she can see what’s what without having to work too hard. So I usually separate out the ingredients, which in this case is simple since there are just a handful of items in the mix.
This pasta salad is really delicious in the basic version shown here, but here are a few variations you could do to customize it for your family:
- Make it dairy-free by using white beans or chickpeas instead of the cheese.
- Add shredded chicken or chunks of tuna to boost the protein.
- Add cubed zucchini or summer squash, steamed green beans, diced cucumber, or fresh sweet corn.
- Top it with grated Parmesan cheese for extra flavor.
We love it almost anyway, so experiment and see what your family likes. And a hint: If you want to serve this warm, simply heat it briefly in the microwave. The cubes of cheese will melt a little bit and the tomatoes will soften, resulting in summery comfort food!
Amy Palanjian is a writer, editor, recipe developer, and crafter for magazines, books, and websites. She’s also mama to a very energetic little girl who inspires her to share wholesome, yet realistic recipes and feeding tips at her site Yummy Toddler Food. For more inspiration, check out her website and Instagram.