Make Ahead

No-Mayo Peperonata Pasta Salad

May 27, 2018
24 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 15 minutes
  • Serves 6 to 8
Author Notes

Want to know how to change hearts and minds about pasta salad? Make this one for your next backyard BBQ or picnic with friends. Peperonata—the classic Southern Italian side dish of sweet peppers, onions, and tomatoes melted in olive oil—is a swell companion to pasta. It’s packed full of vegetables and serves as the dressing (a win for pasta salad, a big win for you). My peperonata borrows elements from two recipes: a generous heap of capers from Suzanne Goin’s version in Sunday Suppers at Lucques and cherry tomatoes added off the heat from Joshua McFadden’s take in Six Seasons. Better yet, the peperonata can be made several days in advance and tossed with freshly-cooked pasta whenever you’re ready. Creamy mozzarella, shaved Parmesan, slivered almonds, and loads of basil keep each bite interesting. Serve it as a main course, or pair it with grilled meat. Italian sausage and cold beer are smashing accompaniments. —EmilyC

Test Kitchen Notes

Featured in: The No-Mayo Pasta Salad That Will Change Your Mind About Pasta Salad. —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 3 large sweet peppers (about 1 1/2 pounds)--I like using a mix of red, yellow, and orange peppers
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 small red onion (or half a large red onion), thinly sliced into strips about the same size as peppers
  • 1 tablespoon minced thyme leaves
  • Kosher salt plus freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 2 tablespoons red wine or sherry vinegar, plus more to taste
  • 2 cups halved cherry tomatoes, divided
  • 1 pound casarecce or other tubular pasta
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts, chopped walnuts, or slivered almonds
  • 1 cup basil, torn into small pieces
  • 5 ounces fresh mozzarella, torn into bite-sized chunks
  • 1 1/2 ounces Parmesan, thinly shaved
  1. Cut the peppers in half lengthwise and remove the stems, seeds, and membranes. Cut each pepper lengthwise into thin strips, then cut the strips in half if they’re long.
  2. In a large saute pan or skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the peppers, onion, thyme, and salt and pepper, to taste. Saute for about 6 minutes, tossing often, until the peppers and onions soften. The peppers should be soft but still have a little crunch to them. Add the capers and cook for another minute, then add the vinegar and remove the pan from the heat.
  3. Transfer the peperonata to a shallow, non-reactive dish. Add 1 cup of the halved cherry tomatoes so they can marinate along with the peppers and onions. Set the peperonata aside while you make the rest of the dish, or refrigerate until you’re ready to use (it can be made several days in advance). Bring to room temperature before using.
  4. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente. While the pasta cooks, season the remaining 1 cup of halved cherry tomatoes with salt.
  5. Drain the pasta and toss with the peperonata in a large bowl. Let the pasta cool until just warm, toss in the raw cherry tomatoes and their juices, the toasted nuts, and the basil--then add the mozzarella and Parmesan. For presentation, I like to add the cheese at the end (and only very gently toss) so it stays white and creamy. Taste and adjust the seasoning and acidity, then gild the lily by drizzling more olive oil over the pasta. Serve at room temperature.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Erika Hobbs
    Erika Hobbs
  • Taylor Stanton
    Taylor Stanton
  • Cheryl
  • peg denton
    peg denton
  • keithcancook

Recipe by: EmilyC

I'm a home cook. I love salads. Two things you'll always find in my refrigerator are lemons and butter, and in my pantry good quality chocolate and the makings for chocolate chip cookies.

29 Reviews

Erika H. May 29, 2023
This was fantastic. Everyone loved this and the nuts were a hit. Be sure to season with salt and pepper generously. I love vinegar's bite and probably more than doubled it. I used sherry vinegar. This will be on repeat. Thanks for this!
Taylor S. April 13, 2019
This is amazing! I used some sharp + salty grana padano and a little goat's milk cheddar, both superb. Super easy with fairly simple clean-up too (I made this in a small 250 sq ft studio apartment kitchen).
EmilyC April 14, 2019
Hi Taylor! So so happy that you tried and liked this! I love goat's milk cheddar--nice call, bet it was delicious here! Thanks so much for your note!
Cheryl August 24, 2018
So glad I made this! The capers really add to it too. I eat vegan and all I had for cheese was vegan Parm, so used a good amount of that; I'm sure the (vegan) mozzarella would be a great addition, but I didn't miss it. I can't wait for leftovers. Thanks!
Cheryl August 26, 2018
I used 3/4 lbs pasta--and that seemed right.
peg D. August 16, 2018
Loved the photo, so decided to make this. It is AWESOME!
EmilyC August 16, 2018
That photo is so beautiful, isn’t it?! So glad you liked the pasta salad! Thanks for letting me know.
keithcancook August 2, 2018
made this just as the recipe calls was great.
next time I might add artichokes
EmilyC August 6, 2018
So glad to hear this, Keith! Thanks so much for your note!
Deirdre R. July 27, 2018
Curious. I have to make this ahead so will be serving it cold or coldish. Do the veggies/dressing do alright when chilled or do they firm up too much?
EmilyC July 27, 2018
Hi Deirdre: you can definitely make this salad ahead of time. It holds up well in the fridge for several days. (Hold back the basil, though, until serving so it doesn't brown.) I prefer the flavors and textures of the salad at room temperature (vs. straight from the fridge) so I'd recommend just setting the salad out about 30 minutes before serving. Hope this helps!
Deirdre R. July 27, 2018
Thanks, Emily, for your quick response, it certainly does help. Good point on the basil. I'll remember that.
Deirdre R. August 3, 2018
The pasta salad was a party hit. I added some zucchini and doubled the vinegar. I like the idea of adding artichokes as suggested by keithcancook. Didn't add nuts in case someone had allergies. Doubled the recipe so brought some home. Turned the leftovers into a pasta dish with ground lamb and a little basil pesto -- another hit.
EmilyC August 6, 2018
Wonderful--so glad you liked this Deirdre! Thanks so much for trying it and circling back!
Paulaob July 6, 2018
Very good recipe. I had some smoked mozzarella and finished with a smoked sea salt. Don’t skip the toasted nuts. They add an interesting texture. I used walnuts because I had them, but I would like to try pine nuts.
EmilyC July 9, 2018
Thank Paulaob for your note -- the smoky additions sound really nice!
Josh July 3, 2018
Very solid and easy choice! I’d rank it second all-time after the Zakarian recipe which is a bit more assertive. This has a wonderful balance and is a great base to further augment.
EmilyC July 9, 2018
I'll have to look up the Zakarian recipe! : ) So glad you liked this--thanks Josh!
Jennifer H. June 30, 2018
Unbelievable great salad!!! I almost got a marriage proposal from this one!!! I added more capers since I love them! 5 Stars
EmilyC June 30, 2018
Haha, this may be the best comment ever! Thanks for putting a big smile on my face! : )
Carol D. June 20, 2018
Looks really good! I'd appreciate having the Nutritional Info posted with the recipe, please :-)
EmilyC June 21, 2018
Thanks Carol! I don’t have the nutritional info for this pasta salad or any of my recipes.
Felicia N. June 22, 2018
Try this website to plug in the ingredients and amounts and adjust to serving size for nutritional info:
EmilyC June 22, 2018
Thanks Felicia for the helpful link!
Meghan June 17, 2018
I made this today for our Father's Day dinner, and it was a hit! Very flavorful and all the ingredients complement each other well. It was easy to make and I think would be difficult to mess up - this recipe is a keeper. Thank you!
EmilyC June 18, 2018
Wonderful—so glad it was a hit! Thanks Meghan!
Meghan July 21, 2018
Making it again tomorrow for a baby shower! :)
meganvt01 June 17, 2018
This is my new go to pasta salad. Made it for a tailgate and it held up beautifully. Even enjoying it today a day later. The flavors are so bright.
EmilyC June 18, 2018
Megan: so so happy to know that you made and liked the salad! It seems perfect for a tailgate, too! Thanks for letting me know!