When I was growing up, every summer the prospect of having people over meant the prospect of eating this bruschetta pasta salad.
It involves very few ingredients and is fairly easy to throw together, so I’m not sure why my mom only made it for company. But because of its deliciousness and scarcity, it remains a recipe that feels like a special occasion dish, even though it is easy enough for a quick picnic lunch.
Since we are adults now, and since the pandemic has eliminated most prospects of cooking for others, Charlie and I have been making this bruschetta pasta on repeat. I used to call it Pomodoro fresco pasta salad, but when we were prepping the ingredients—finely chopped tomatoes, fresh basil, mashed garlic, and a teensy splash of balsamic—it occurred to me that the topping was very similar to my favorite type of bruschetta.
Side note: as a fast casual noob, I had no idea until googling it for this here post that bruschetta pasta is in fact a TGI Friday’s specialty – who knew?
Bruschetta has become synonymous in this country with crispy bread topped with tomato salad, but in Italy, it essentially just means garlicky toast and the additional toppings can take many forms. It’s usually served as an antipasto (first course) or during aperitivo, a sophisticated happy hour at most bars that usually involves free food. When I was a penny-pinching (yet booze-happy) college student studying abroad in Rome, I became a bruschetta aficionado, always able to point you to the bars that served the best variety to pair with your discounted Aperol spritz.
At home during that semester, my favorite type of bruschetta to make involved eggplant caponata, which ironically, I have also taken to mixing together with pasta in summer months.
If you are swimming in fresh tomatoes, as we certainly are after the rash purchase of a fast-growing hanging cherry tomato plant, this is the perfect way to use them up. The most time consuming aspect is the chopping, which is why my version pictured has slightly coarser tomatoes than most bruschetta pasta. If you give it ample time to marinate in the basil, salt, garlic and balsamic, they will still be bursting with briny flavor.
To make this dish ahead of time, you can simply marinate the tomatoes in the morning and cook the pasta right before serving. This was probably the aspect of bruschetta pasta that my mother enjoyed most for entertaining. With regular pasta, you can combine the salad and let it sit for hours on the counter-top. Since gluten-free pasta tends to be more sponge-like, I’d recommend waiting until closer to eating to mix in the tomatoes and avoid chilling it in the fridge. Here are more helpful tips if you’re going the gluten-free pasta route.
My mom has always made this with fusilli or penne, which definitely lend better to sharing picnic-style. I used fresh manini’s spaghetti or linguine for this batch since it was just for my husband and me.
Finally, if you want to go the TGI Friday’s route, you can top the pasta with grilled chicken or chop some up as a mix-in. We turned this most recent batch into more of a celebratory dish and mixed in some fresh lobster meat from the seafood market that we sautéed for a few minutes in butter. I would be remiss to not recommend it if you feel like a splurge! Especially, say, to make a fireworks-less holiday weekend feel more festive.
Read on for this bruschetta pasta recipe that’s perfect for all your summer gatherings, whether socially distant or simply a party of two.
With health and hedonism,
Bruschetta Pasta Salad
I like using a mix of tomatoes (vine, cherry, heirloom) for this easy bruschetta pasta. If packing a picnic or sharing with a crowd as a pasta salad, go with a short-shape pasta. For gluten-free varieties I like this fusilli. The recipe pictured was made with this fresh gluten-free spaghetti. To make it low FODMAP, simply omit the garlic.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the tomatoes, garlic, balsamic, olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt, and half the basil. Allow to sit for up to an hour at room temperature or longer in the fridge so the tomatoes have time to marinate and absorb all the added flavor.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain and add to the bowl with the tomato mixture.
Toss the hot pasta with the tomatoes. Taste for seasoning and add the remaining basil right before serving.