Looking for a taste of fall that's both easy and delicious? Look no further than our autumn pasta salad. It's made with roasted butternut squash, crisp apples, and a mix of sweet cranberries and creamy feta. And the best part? The homemade honey-Dijon dressing is a breeze to make.
Honestly, I can't resist a good pasta salad, and this one has been a joy to develop, make, and enjoy over and over again. Not only for the flavors - it's incredibly delicious - but for the beautiful presentation. Just look at those colors! It just screams autumn! This is the salad you will want to bring to your holiday gatherings.
Table of Contents
Why You'll Love This Recipe
❤️ Easy to prepare. With simple instructions and readily-available ingredients, this recipe is approachable for both novice and experienced cooks.
❤️ Nutritious ingredients. This salad includes nutritious ingredients like butternut squash, apples, and pecans, providing a balance of vitamins, fiber, and protein.
❤️ Make-ahead. You can prepare this salad in advance and let it chill in the refrigerator, which not only allows the flavors to meld but also makes it a convenient option for busy days or entertaining.
❤️ Flavorful and balanced. The salad offers a delightful combination of sweet and savory flavors. The roasted butternut squash, crisp apples, dried cranberries, and feta cheese create a harmonious blend that's both satisfying and delicious.
Detailed Ingredient Notes
- Pasta. You can choose your favorite pasta shape, such as rotini or farfalle.
- Butternut squash. Butternut squash adds a creamy texture and sweet, nutty flavor to the salad. It's a quintessential autumn ingredient. When selecting butternut squash, look for one that is firm, without blemishes or soft spots.
- Apples. The choice of apples can impact the salad's flavor. Tart varieties like Granny Smith provide a nice contrast to the sweetness of the squash and cranberries, while Honeycrisp apples offer a sweeter and crisper bite. We used Honeycrisp apples in ours. Make sure to dice them into bite-sized pieces.
- Dried cranberries. Dried cranberries contribute a sweet and tangy element to the salad. You can use sweetened or unsweetened cranberries based on your preference. Unsweetened cranberries are a healthier option.
- Pecans or walnuts. Chopped nuts, whether pecans or walnuts, bring a satisfying crunch and nutty flavor. You can toast them for added depth of flavor, but be careful not to over-toast and burn them. We used untoasted chopped pecans in our salad, and it tasted great!
- Feta cheese. Feta cheese provides a creamy, slightly tangy, and salty contrast to the sweetness of the other ingredients. You can crumble it into the salad to ensure each bite contains a bit of that delicious cheese.
- Olive oil. Use good-quality extra-virgin olive oil for both roasting the butternut squash and making the dressing. The oil adds richness and flavor to the dish.
- Apple cider vinegar. This vinegar imparts a fruity and tangy note to the dressing, complementing the apples and enhancing the overall flavor profile.
- Honey. Honey adds natural sweetness to the dressing, balancing the tanginess of the vinegar. Adjust the amount based on your desired level of sweetness.
- Dijon mustard. Dijon mustard contributes a bit of heat and complexity to the dressing. It also helps emulsify the dressing, so it adheres well to the ingredients.
- Salt and pepper. These seasonings are essential for enhancing the flavors in the salad. Season to taste, keeping in mind that feta cheese and salted nuts will add some saltiness.
- Fresh herbs (optional). Fresh thyme or rosemary can be used as a garnish for an extra burst of autumn flavor and a visually appealing touch.
Step-By-Step Instructions With Photos
To ensure your autumn pasta salad remains fresh and flavorful, proper storage is key. If you have leftovers, place it in an airtight container to prevent air exposure and moisture loss. Store the container in the refrigerator, where it can be safely kept for up to 3-4 days.
Over time, the pasta may absorb some of the dressing, so it's a good idea to reserve a bit of dressing to refresh the salad before serving. To do so, simply drizzle a little dressing and toss the salad to restore its original taste and texture.
- Pasta. You can use any type of pasta you prefer. Rotini and farfalle work well, but you can also opt for whole wheat pasta, gluten-free pasta, or even vegetable-based pasta like zucchini noodles if you have dietary preferences.
- Butternut squash. If you can't find butternut squash, you can substitute it with other types of winter squash, like acorn squash, kabocha, or even sweet potatoes for a similar roasted texture and sweet flavor.
- Apples. While Granny Smith and Honeycrisp apples are great choices, you can use other apple varieties like Fuji, Pink Lady, or Gala based on your taste. Pears can also be a suitable substitute if you prefer a different fruit.
- Dried cranberries. If you don't have dried cranberries, you can substitute them with raisins, currants, or chopped dried apricots for a similar sweet and chewy element.
- Pecans or walnuts. Instead of pecans or walnuts, you can use almonds, cashews, or hazelnuts for the nutty crunch.
- Feta cheese. If you're not a fan of feta, consider using blue cheese, cojita, or a vegan cheese alternative for a creamy, tangy element. You can also omit the cheese altogether for a dairy-free version.
- Olive oil. Any good-quality oil, such as avocado oil can substitute for olive oil.
- Apple cider vinegar. Red wine vinegar or white wine vinegar can be used as alternatives to apple cider vinegar for a similar tangy effect.
- Honey. Maple syrup or agave nectar can replace honey if you're looking for a sweetener alternative.
- Dijon mustard. Grainy mustard or regular yellow mustard can be used in place of Dijon mustard. Adjust the quantity to suit your taste.
- Fresh herbs. If you don't have fresh thyme or rosemary, you can use dried herbs or omit them altogether. Fresh parsley or basil can also be a great addition for a different flavor profile.
Tips for Success
- Roast the butternut squash just right. When roasting the butternut squash, make sure to cut it into evenly-sized pieces to ensure even cooking. Keep an eye on it in the oven, as you want it to be tender and slightly caramelized, not overly mushy or undercooked.
- Cook the pasta al dente. Cook the pasta just until it's al dente, which means it's firm to the bite. Overcooking can lead to a mushy texture in the salad.
- Balance the dressing. When preparing the dressing, taste as you go. Adjust the honey, Dijon mustard, and seasoning to achieve the perfect sweet-tangy balance that suits your palate.
- Chill before serving. Allow the salad to chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving. This time allows the flavors to meld and intensifies the overall taste of the salad.
- Customize to taste. Feel free to customize the salad to your liking. You can add more or less of any ingredient, and you can also introduce other elements like roasted chicken, cubed ham, spinach, or kale for added protein or greens.
- Fresh herbs for freshness. If you opt for the optional fresh green onion or thyme garnish, use it sparingly, as fresh herbs can be potent. They add a burst of freshness and fragrance to the salad, but a little goes a long way.
- Reserve some ingredients for garnish. Save a few pieces of roasted butternut squash, apple, or nuts to sprinkle on top of the salad for an attractive presentation.
- Consider dietary preferences. If you have dietary restrictions or preferences, don't hesitate to use gluten-free pasta, vegan cheese, or adjust the ingredients to accommodate your needs.
Yes, you can easily add protein to this salad. Grilled or roasted chicken, diced cooked ham, chickpeas, or tofu can be great options. Add them when you combine all the salad ingredients, or serve the protein on top of the salad for a heartier meal.
Absolutely! This recipe is flexible. You can omit ingredients like cheese or nuts if they don't fit your dietary needs or taste. Feel free to customize the salad to your liking.
Yes, you can prepare most of the salad components in advance. Cook the pasta and roast the butternut squash ahead of time. Store them separately in airtight containers in the refrigerator. When you're ready to serve, simply combine all the ingredients and add the dressing.
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Autumn Pasta Salad
- 8 ounces pasta Such as rotini or farfalle.
- 1 cup butternut squash Diced.
- 1 cup apple Granny Smith or Honeycrisp. Diced.
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- ½ cup pecans Chopped. You can substitute chopped walnuts.
- ½ cup feta cheese Crumbled.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Fresh green onion or thyme optional
- Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Drain and rinse with cold water to cool it down. Set aside.8 ounces pasta
- Preheat your oven to 400°F (200°C). Toss the diced butternut squash with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread the squash on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast in the oven for about 15-20 minutes or until tender and slightly caramelized. Let it cool.1 cup butternut squash
- In a large bowl, combine the cooked pasta, roasted butternut squash, diced apples, dried cranberries, chopped nuts, and crumbled feta cheese.1 cup apple, ½ cup dried cranberries, ½ cup pecans, ½ cup feta cheese
- In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, apple cider vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper to make the dressing.2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, Salt and pepper to taste
- Drizzle the dressing over the pasta salad.Fresh green onion or thyme
- Toss to coat everything evenly. Garnish with fresh chopped green onion or fresh thyme, if desired, for an extra burst of autumn flavor. Chill the pasta salad in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to meld.