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Pasta Salad, Please

Pasta Salad, Please

To me, pasta salad has always been a bit of a misnomer. It seems like there are so many pasta salads that end up having more pasta than green leafy vegetables, and to me, for any "salad," the opposite should be true. Other picnic and potluck favorites like potato salad and macaroni salad suffer from the same problem. But that's fine. Whatever you decide to call it, what matters in the end is how a dish tastes. Besides, the alternative "chilled pasta" just doesn't quite have the same ring as say, chilled soup — "Hey guys! Guess what I brought? Chilled pasta!" No. Just don't go there.

Pasta salad is a wonderful dish to serve at parties because it's relatively cheap and easy-to-make and can serve as either an appetizer or a side dish. And on a hot, humid summer day, nobody wants to eat hot pasta.

Now, when making pasta salad, it's important to bear in mind a few things.

First, it's generally a good idea to pick a shape that is "fork friendly" in the sense that a pasta salad made with noodles (unless it is Asian style, like Ming Tsai's recipe here) is probably a little odd and cumbersome to eat. So steer clear of using spaghetti, linguine, or fettuccine and opt instead for shapes like farfalle, penne, or orecchiette.

Next, to keep spruce up pasta salad, it's important to create a balance of textures. So a mixture of cooked vegetables (such as blanched broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, or zucchini), raw vegetables (such as cucumbers, grape tomatoes, or asparagus), and crunchy garnishes (such as bacon bits, toasted pine nuts, almonds, or pumpkin seeds) will add to the wow factor, and you may just find your fellow partygoers asking for the recipe.

At the same time, try not to make a salad that has "too much going on." Maybe a salad with 12 different ingredients in addition to the pasta isn't such a good idea, since most of their flavors will get lost in the mix. And remember to cut all of the vegetables into bite-sized pieces so that people can get a nice forkful of all the elements.

Now, dressing — you'll need quite a lot of it to keep each bite flavorful. This isn't like making regular old salad with leafy greens, which everyone always says to dress sparingly, for fear of wilting the greens. This is pasta salad. For my recipe, for example, I used a six-ounce container of Greek yogurt plus ½ cup olive oil. And if using balsamic vinegar, make sure it's white balsamic vinegar so the dish doesn't turn an unattractive brown.

But, most importantly, pasta acts like a sponge. It will soak up whatever dressing you make, so make sure not to overcook the pasta or it will turn mushy when the dressing sinks in. Also, don't rinse the starch off after cooking because the starch is what helps the dressing adhere to the surface of the pasta. And, if you're planning to serve it later on in the day instead of right away, make a little extra dressing to toss in just before serving so it doesn't turn out dry.

We hope that armed with those tips, your next pasta salad will be an epicurean success. Now, here are some recipes from The Daily Meal editorial staff to get you started.

Insalata di Italia
Not to be a bit boasty or anything, but when cooking, there are a whole lot of fantastic Italian ingredients…

— Francesca Borgognone

Healthy Summer 'Pasta' Salad
But this recipe turns the notion of pasta salad on its head by replacing real pasta with zucchini ribbons…

— Ali Rosen

Pasta Salad with Asparagus, Basil, and Grape Tomatoes
The crunch of raw asparagus, the sweetness of summer tomatoes, and the peppery fragrance of basil combine to make a satisfying, delicious appetizer or side dish…

— Will Budiaman

Pesto Pasta Salad with Zucchini, Eggplant, and Snap Peas
This vibrant pasta salad showcases fresh, seasonal produce…

— Molly Aronica

Will Budiaman is the Recipe Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @WillBudiaman.


Pasta Salad

I love creamy pasta salad! You can make this recipe for the best pasta salad on any day and in a very short time.

It is one of those recipes for which you only need a minimum of ingredients, most of which you probably have in your kitchen.

Plus, it tastes fantastic. After all, this easy pasta salad contains only good stuff. We all like pickles, peppers, ham, or peas. The recipe for classic pasta salad is also interesting in that you can really use anything you feel like eating and what you can find in your fridge.

Do you like hard-boiled eggs in a salad? Yes, please. Do you want to spend some unused cheese that you have left from the last recipe? Feel free to use it.

However, what this salad should not miss are ham, corn, and red bell pepper. And of course pasta as well.

What pasta for classic pasta salad?

I think macaroni is best. Nah, I’m sure macaroni is the best option. That means you have to use them!

I’m joking, you can use a different type of pasta too. For example, if you have fusilli or penne at home, your fantastic pasta salad is unlikely to be offended. But not spaghetti. You’d probably be a little weird.

However, macaroni pasta fits well, because they keep dressing well, which also gets into their holes running through the center. Their size is also perfect.

When cooking pasta, I do one thing differently than usual. When you make any Italian pasta, whether your favorite spaghetti carbonara or pasta all’Amatriciana, it is a matter of course to cook the pasta al dente (and therefore not quite soft).

Pasta salad is probably the only recipe for which I recommend cooking pasta more than al dente. So maybe 2 or 3 minutes longer. But be careful not to overcook them.

Cold pasta salad is consumed, obviously, cold. That’s probably why I like when the pasta is a bit softer.

Creamy pasta salad with mayo or without?

I’m not gonna lie, mayonnaise makes a great taste in salad and it really belongs there. Easy pasta salad with mayo is a classic. But adding nearly a pound of mayonnaise almost hurts – especially your moral sense.

That’s why I try to find a middle ground. Mix approximately 1/2 cup of mayonnaise with 1 cup of natural Greek yogurt. Of course, natural yogurt is healthy and the taste will remain excellent.

Add pickle juice and pasta water to these two ingredients. Combine with minced garlic, salt and pepper, and your nice dressing for pasta salad is ready.

If your salad seems a little dry, add more yogurt or pickle juice. I love the typical acidity and flavor of pickle juice, so I like to add a bit more.

Pasta salad with chicken?

As I outlined at the beginning, it’s up to you what ingredients to use. Pasta salad with chicken is also a very tasty recipe. Therefore, there would be no need to add ham.

An equally good and delicious choice is a pasta salad with tuna. So don’t be afraid to use the different ingredients that you have available right now.


The Spruce / Diana Rattray

This chicken, spinach, and pasta salad is tossed with a flavorful mayonnaise and lemon juice dressing. This is a great main dish salad for hot summer days, or take it along to a potluck or big family cookout. Use cooked leftover chicken or a rotisserie chicken for this tasty salad recipe.


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Recipe Summary

  • 1 pound seashell pasta
  • ¼ pound Genoa salami, chopped
  • ¼ pound pepperoni sausage, chopped
  • ½ pound Asiago cheese, diced
  • 1 (6 ounce) can black olives, drained and chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 (.7 ounce) package dry Italian-style salad dressing mix
  • ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste

Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain, and cool under cold water.

In a large bowl, combine the pasta, salami, pepperoni, Asiago cheese, black olives, red bell pepper, green bell pepper and tomatoes. Stir in the envelope of dressing mix. Cover, and refrigerate for at least one hour.

To prepare the dressing, whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, oregano, parsley, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Just before serving, pour dressing over the salad, and mix well.


Whether you&aposre making an Italian pasta salad, a Greek pasta salad, an Asian pasta salad, or the Easy Tuna Pasta Salad, you&aposll use the same basic formula so you get the right balance of ingredients. The ingredients themselves will change, but the formula will stay the same.

This formula makes enough pasta salad to serve as a main dish for 6 to 8 people or a side dish to 12 to 16 people.

1. Cook 1 Pound of Pasta

Chooseꀖ ounces of bite-size pasta such as penne (shown above), farfalle (bow ties), fusilli (corkscrews), ziti, rotelle (wagon wheels), macaroni, or small shells. Cook the pasta in one gallon of boiling water seasoned with 2 tablespoons of salt until just tender.਍rain but do not rinse the pasta. Instead, toss it with olive oil and dump it onto a rimmed baking sheet to cool. Don&apost use butter because it clumps up when it cools.

Tip: Cook pasta until tender but slightly underdone. Why? Overcooked pasta fallsਊpart when you toss it with dressing. And if you let your salad marinate for several hours, the pasta absorbs extra moisture and could turn mushy if it was overcooked.

2. Prepare 2 Pounds of Main Ingredients (About 8 Cups)

These are the salad&aposs major add-ins, including cooked and raw vegetables, poultry, seafood, and canned beans. Some need little or no preparation before going into the salad. Others can be lightly cooked. Still others are best sauteed or grilled.

Tip: Choose at least 3 major flavorings. Let one ingredient dominate.ਏor example, combine 1 pound of asparagus with 8 ounces each of sliced mushrooms and cherry tomatoes for a total of 2 pounds.

Ideas for adding cooked vegetables:

These can be boiled or blanched in the pasta water. Just add them to the pot਍uring the last minute of boiling. Drain and cool them with the pasta, or shock them in ice-cold water for a just-right, tender-crisp texture.

  • Broccoli or cauliflower, florets cut into bite-size pieces, stems peeled and cut into 1/4-inch thick coins
  • Asparagus, trimmed and cut into bite-size lengths
  • Carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch coins
  • Green beans, trimmed and cut into bite-size lengths
  • Snow peas or sugar snap peas, strings removed
  • Zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced 1/4-inch thick

Ideas for adding raw or canned vegetables:

Raw vegetables add snappy color and texture, while canned vegetables are convenient time-savers.

  • Canned artichoke hearts, drained, rinsed, and quartered
  • Bean sprouts
  • Celery, sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • Mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • Cucumbers, quartered lengthwise, cut into bite-size pieces and lightly salted
  • Fennel, trimmed, halved, cored and thinly sliced
  • Avocados, halved, pitted, peeled, and cut into bite-size pieces (add at last minute to prevent darkening)
  • Zucchini, halved lengthwise if small, quartered lengthwise if large, then thinly sliced
  • Cherry tomatoes, halved and lightly salted
  • Bell peppers, cored and cut into bite-size strips
  • Tomatoes, seeded and cut into medium dice and lightly salted
  • Frozen green peas, thawed

Ideas for grilled or broiled vegetables:

Brush vegetables with olive oil and season with salt and pepper before grilling or broiling.

  • Eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds cut into bite-size pieces after grilling
  • Fennel, trimmed, halved, core left intact, and cut into wedges cut away tough core after grilling
  • Large whole mushrooms slice or quarter after grilling
  • Bell peppers, cored, seeded, and quartered cut into bite-size pieces after grilling
  • Zucchini, cut on the diagonal into slices 1/2-inch thick

Ideas for sauteed vegetables:

Asian-style salads taste best with lightly sauteed vegetables, particularly celery and peppers.

Ideas for proteins:

Be sure to cut up meats and cheeses into bite-size pieces

  • Canned beans, drained and rinsed
  • Chicken breasts, grilled, sauteed or steamed and cut crosswise into thin bite-size strips
  • Italian sausage, steam-sauteed and sliced thin on a slight bias
  • Cooked lobster
  • Cooked and peeled shrimp
  • Canned tuna, drained
  • Mild cheeses (e.g., mozzarella, cheddar, Swiss, Monterey Jack), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • Crabmeat (pasteurized lump), picked over for shell
  • Ham, sliced 1/4-inch thick and cut into bite-size strips

3. Add Strong Flavors

More intensely flavored than the main ingredient vegetable and protein add-ins, these bold tastes are essential but should be used sparingly so they don&apost overwhelm the pasta salad: Italian pasta salads often include salami and basil. Roasted peppers, pine nuts, and feta cheese are typical add-ins for Greek pasta salads. For Asian-style pasta salads, try sesame or sunflower seeds and pickled ginger.

Ideas for strong flavors:

In most cases, add about 1/2 cup, unless otherwise noted.

  • Salami, sliced and quartered
  • Feta, crumbled
  • Parmesan, shaved with a vegetable peeler
  • Goat cheese, crumbled
  • Capers, drained (1/4 cup)
  • Olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
  • Pepperoncini, drained and thinly sliced
  • Roasted peppers, cut into strips
  • Sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, cut into small dice
  • Bacon, fried and crumbled (8 ounces)
  • Prosciutto (8 ounces), thinly sliced, cut into small dice
  • Smoked salmon (8 ounces), thinly sliced, then cut into thin strips (other smoked fish and shellfish are possibilities as well)
  • Pine nuts, toasted
  • Roasted cashews, coarsely chopped
  • Roasted or honey-roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
  • Toasted sesame seeds (1/4 cup)
  • Sunflower seeds

4. Add Bright Accents

No matter what else is in your pasta salad, always add a few sliced green onions or half of a diced small red onion. The types of onions are completely interchangeable, although green onions are usually included in Asian-style pasta salads. Then mince 3 tablespoons fresh herbs and/or grate 2 teaspoons orange or lemon zest (the peel minus the bitter white pith).

Flavor tips: For Asian-style pasta salads, consider cilantro, basil, and/or the citrus zests. Dill and mint are usually compatible with creamy-style salads. Rosemary and tarragon are strong flavors, so use just 1 tablespoon of either herb combined with 2 tablespoons of minced parsley.

And if you&aposre ever in doubt about which herbs to use, you&aposll never go wrong with good ol&apos chopped fresh parsley.


Easy Pasta Salad Ideas You Will Love

Perfect for picnics, potlucks and BBQs, this BLT pasta salad has the bacon, lettuce and tomatoes you’d expect plus more goodies to take it to the next level!

Caesar Macaroni Salad with a homemade Caesar dressing combines traditional Caesar salad and summer macaroni salad into one picnic side dish.

Easy recipe for the best Tri Color Italian Pasta Salad. This fresh tasting meal only takes 20 minutes to put together from start to finish.

Grape orzo pasta salad combines a hint of sweet grapes with bright lemon juice, savory feta cheese and more. It is the perfect side dish for grilled meats or seafood.

Calling all Buffalo Chicken lovers! This Buffalo Chicken Pasta Salad is spicy and loaded with all the delicious flavors you expect from Buffalo Chicken.

Calling all pickle lovers! This Dill Pickle Pasta Salad is a classic cold pasta salad with a tangy twist. Quick and easy to make, this tangy pasta salad recipe is just the thing for serving at those backyard barbecues, summer picnics and taking to potlucks.

This pasta salad is tossed with pesto, cream cheese, and garnished with Parmesan cheese. Perfect for potlucks, BBQ sides, or cold lunches.


Making ahead and serving

The noodles, vegetables, cheese, and meat can be prepared and combined 1 day in advance. It&rsquos best to make the dressing the same day to keep it uniform. I also toss the pasta and dressing together right before serving so it nicely coats the surface.

Letting the salad sit too long causes the starchy noodles to soak up too much liquid, and makes the pasta dry. If you do have leftovers, save some extra dressing so you can drizzle more on top later to enhance the taste.


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We knew penne was the only thing missing from a Caesar.

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