This plant-based seasonal pasta salad is made with all kinds of goodies – shaped pasta, roasted pumpkin, apples, pecans, cranberries, red onion, sweet peppers, pepitas, and baby spinach. Roasted Pumpkin Pasta Salad makes a festive main course or side dish.
My work environment is fun. We have a monthly themed potluck where everyone participates and brings their best recipes to share. Of course, for me, the pressure is pretty intense to best represent how awesome vegan food can be! I had to choose between my Fall Pasta Salad with Sweet Potatoes and Poppy Seed dressing and this yummy salad with roasted pumpkin. I decided to go with the roasted pumpkin salad today!
I usually pick something like Italian Bow Tie Pasta Salad or Fresh Fruit Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing to take. Nothing too "vegan crazy" (but have you every tried the most delicious potato salad with tofu mayo dressing?) but something delicious that everyone will enjoy - both the vegan (me) and non-vegans.
This month we have a seasonal theme of apples and pumpkins. I always try to bring something plant-based and awesome that will knock their socks off. I knew that this seasonal pasta salad with roasted pumpkin and apples would be just the thing!
Check out this post with all the vegan pumpkin recipes – both sweet and savory – from Veggie Fun Kitchen!
Ingredients needed to make roasted pumpkin pasta salad
This plant-based seasonal pasta is chock-full of seasonal goodness like roasted pumpkin, apples, pecans, and more! You’ll need:
- small shaped pasta – like corkscrew, rigatoni, medium shells, or even a fun fall shape (affiliate link)
- pumpkin or winter squash – I use the lovely green Japanese Kabocha squash
- baby spinach
- sweet peppers -can sub in red or yellow bell peppers
- red onion
- dried sweetened cranberries
- olive oil
- Dijon mustard
- balsamic vinegar
- maple syrup
- salt and pepper
How to make this fun seasonal pasta salad
Choose the right pasta and pumpkin
Before we even get started we need to decide which pasta to use and which winter squash to use. Because that’s what a pumpkin is – winter squash!
Which winter squash should I use?
You can use any winter squash you’d like: butternut, acorn, delicata, pumpkin, or what I prefer if I can get my hands on it – the beautiful green pumpkin, Japanese Kabocha squash!
Kabocha squash is known for its sweet almost nutty flavor and velvety texture. It’s as if a butternut squash and sweet potato had a baby and named it Kabocha! Read more about the Kabocha squash on The Forked Spoon.
What I appreciate most about the Kabocha squash is that as long as the squash is fresh and the outer peel unblemished, you don’t need to peel before roasting! The rind cooks up nice and tender.
Most other winter squashes will need to be peeled before roasting – except for the (also) tender and delicious delicata squash. Read here to learn the best way to peel and cube butternut squash.
What you don’t want to use is the pumpkin you use to carve and make scary faces with! This pumpkin was developed to hold up to carving and sitting on your front porch – not for eating. It will be tough, stringy, and generally not as tasty.
If you are going to roast and eat a pumpkin, the smallish sugar or pie pumpkin is best. You can read more about selecting and roasting pumpkins on The Kitchn.
Which pasta is best for pasta salad?
If you are just adding a few small ingredients to your pasta salad, it just doesn’t matter. You can use any type of pasta you’d like: from macaroni to shells or even spaghetti.
This pasta salad has a lot of parts and big pieces and needs pasta that will hold up and withstand all the lovely chunky ingredients. Use a small/medium shape like corkscrew, bowtie, or rigatoni.
I love the tri-color pasta for this recipe. It looks so festive and seasonal. OR!!! I found some cute autumn pasta shapes on Amazon!
Step 1: Prep and roast the Pumpkin and boil the pasta
Remove the seeds and peel your winter squash – unless you’ve chosen ones like the Kabocha squash or delicata squash that has an edible, tender skin. Check out how to peel and cube a butternut squash if that is what you decide to use.
I cut my squash into one-inch chunks and then roast them till they are nice and lightly browned on the edges. If you’d like smaller chunks for your pasta salad, go ahead and cut and roast the one-inch chunks and then cut them down after roasting.
While the roasted skin of the Kabocha squash is edible, I’m very picky about the squash I will use for this. At the beginning of the season, the Kabocha skin is young and tender. As the season wears on, it can toughen up. Also, I won’t eat any weird damaged parts. Just cut those parts out!
Make sure you wash your pumpkin thoroughly before cutting – even if you plan on removing the skin. Those bad bacteria that are on the skin will transfer to the pumpkin flesh with your knife if the pumpkin is not washed off!
Put into a preheated oven and roast for 20-25 minutes. The pumpkin should be fork-tender and have started to brown a little around the edges. It takes exactly 21 minutes in my oven, but all ovens are different.
While the pumpkin is roasting, boil the water and cook the pasta. You will want to cook just to al dente so that your pasta isn’t mushy.
When the pasta is done cooking, drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside to fully drain.
Step 2: Prepare the vegetables
While the pumpkin is roasting and the pasta is boiling, you can prepare the vegetable ingredients.
- Wash and chop the baby spinach.
- Thinly slice the red onion.
- Wash, core, and dice the apple – no need to peel.
- De-seed and slice the sweet peppers.
Step 3: the add-ons and dressing
Measure out the pepitas, pecans, and sweetened dried cranberries. I purchase my pecans already chopped. If you purchase whole or halved pecans, this is the time to chop them.
Wait! You didn’t think I actually took the time to chop my pecans on a cutting board with a knife did you? Nope! I use a handy easy-to-use chopper. It gets the job done:)
You can make the dressing ahead of time or make it while the pumpkin is roasting. It just takes a few minutes to make, but I sometimes make up a triple batch and save some to use later in the week on a green salad or as a refresher for this pasta salad.
Simply whisk the ingredients together and set them aside. I then do a quick whisk before adding to the pasta salad.
The final step: Putting it together and serving!
Add the ingredients to a large bowl and gently toss with the balsamic dressing. By the time you get everything together, the pumpkin will have cooled slightly.
You can serve right away and a little warm (my preference), or refrigerated and cool. This is super delicious at room temperature too. If you must serve warm after it has been in the fridge, portion out what you want to warm and then microwave in 30-second increments.
This pumpkin pasta salad will keep tightly covered in your refrigerator for up to five days. If it starts to dry out then make some more dressing and refresh with just a tiny bit.
Health it up!
Health it up! This plant-based pasta salad uses a lovely flavorful dijon balsamic dressing that is made with olive oil. I know many of my whole-food plant-based readers are no-oil as well. The dressing will stick better if made with oil AND the texture be more appealing. HOWEVER, I do have a very nice oil-free balsamic dressing you can use instead. The calorie count below includes the dressing with oil. If you choose the oil-free dressing, you’ll be saving about 60 calories per dinner-sized serving.
Important notes for making and taking to a special event
If you take this dish to a potluck or buffet as I am doing, you MUST disclose that it contains nuts and seeds! Nuts aren’t normally found in pasta salad and might not be readily visible. I always put a little warning sign up near my food that contains nuts.
Please don’t try to be all healthy and make this with the oil-free dressing if you are serving others. Nobody cares about that at a potluck. They might say they care, but what they really want is delicious food! IMHO!!
Looking for some other delicious plant-based recipes to make and take to a special event?
- Chili with walnuts
- Asian Pasta Salad with Peanuts
- Pasta with Pumpkin Walnut Sage Sauce
- Veggie Salad with Tahini Dressing
- Pumpkin Black Bean Soup
- Devil’s Food Cake
The printable recipe card for Roasted Pumpkin Pasta Salad
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Pasta Salad with Roasted Pumpkin, Pecans, and Cranberries
- baking sheet
- 12 ounces dry pasta see notes for suggestions
The Roasted Pumpkin
- 5 cups pumpkin skin removed, skin removed – see notes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 2 teaspoons olive oil more for the dressing – see below
Dijon Balsamic Dressing
- 3 Tablespoons olive oil extra virgin
- 1½ Tablespoon dijon mustard
- 1½ Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon pure maple syrup
- 2 cups baby spinach washed and chopped
- 1 apple washed, cored, and cut/chopped, see notes
- ¾ cup sweet peppers
- ½ cup pecans chopped
- ½ cup dried cranberries I used craisins
- ½ cup pepitas
- ½ cup red onion thinly sliced
- Preheat the oven to 375° and prepare a large baking pan with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
- Start the water boiling for the pasta
Roasted Pumpkin and Pasta
- Wash, peel, and removed the seeds from a pumpkin or winter squash of choice. I used the green pumpkin – a Japanese Kabocha squash. This winter squash does not need to have the skin removed. However, you should removed and damaged or yellowed areas of the skin.
- Cut the prepared pumpkin into small half-inch to inch sized pieces. You will need five cups which is about 1/2 of a med/small pumpkin. Place the cubed pumpkin into a medium-sized bowl.
- Toss the cubed pumpkin with the salt, black pepper, and olive oil.
- Spread onto the prepared baking sheet in a single layer. Place in the preheated oven and cook for 20-25 minutes. The edges should start to brown and the roasted pumpkin will be fork-tender. Remove from the oven and allow to cool while prepping the salad.
- While the pumpkin is roasting you can boil the pasta according to package directions. When done cooking, drain, run under cold water, and set aside.
- While the pumpkin is roasting, prepare the balsamic salad dressing. Whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard and maple syrup. Set asid.
Salad with Add-Ins
- While the pumpkin is cooking, you can begin to prepare the ingredients for the pasta salad add-ons.
- Slice the red onion very thin. Wash, slice or dice the apple. You don't need to peel it but you do need to core and remove the seeds. Chop the washed baby spinach. Wash, deseed and slice the sweet peppers. Chop the pecans if they aren't already chopped.
- As soon as the roasted pumpkin has been removed from the oven, begin putting the salad together.
- To a large bowl, add the chopped spinach, sage, sliced onion, diced apple, sweet peppers, chopped pecans, dried cranberry, and pepitas.
- Add the slightly cooled roasted pumpkin and cooked/cooled pasta and toss together with the prepared dressing.
- Serve warm or cold. This pasta salad will keep in the refrigerator for about five days if tightly covered. It can be taken out and warmed slightly in the microwave and served warm (not hot), cold, or at room temperature.