5 Steps for a Perfect Pasta Salad

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Planning on going to any picnics, family cookouts, or neighborhood street parties now that the warmer weather has finally arrived?

Vertical image of a large plate serving a rotini and mixed vegetable recipe.

If you want to bring something tasty that’s easy to make, give yourself a bit of a break by preparing a pasta salad ahead of time.

It’s understandable if you feel a little hesitation about this particular dish. Unfortunately, many of us have eaten bad, bland, pasty piles of questionably prepared ingredients – and on more than one occasion!

But pasta salads don’t have to be boring or mushy. When made correctly, they’re packed with flavor and wonderful textures.

We’ve compiled our best tips and techniques to make zesty dishes that are full of fresh flavors, bold aromas, and pleasant textures.

And not a soggy salad in sight!

Read on to review how to build a better pasta salad in just five steps, and check out our favorite recipe suggestions before you make one for your next summer gathering.

The Basics

Perfect for large, casual gatherings, pasta salad is a very popular and versatile dish, appearing most often in the spring and summer months.

Vertical image of a large bowlful of rotini mixed with assorted fresh vegetables, herbs, and beans next to tomatoes.

With little effort, they can be dressed up or down with a colorful list of ingredients, flavor intensives, toppings, and dressings.

Pasta salads are usually served chilled or at room temperature. They can be prepared with different shapes of pasta, a variety of vegetables and herbs, and different styles of dressing.

Typically, you’ll find a dressing that is either creamy with a base of mayonnaise, or something acidic and vinegar-forward like a balsamic vinaigrette, though there are plenty of other creative ideas to choose from.

It may be served as an appetizer, a side dish, or even as an entree if there are enough hearty and filling additions in the mix.

Ingredients will vary widely due to seasonal availability, regionality, and personal preferences, and these can cover the gamut of food groups. They can include vegetables, legumes, cheeses, nuts, herbs, spices, meats, poultry, seafood, and more.

You could also display your salads as individual servings in edible and natural bowls, like hollowed tomatoes or cucumbers.

A fresh option amongst other make-ahead recipes, pasta salads require no additional prep directly before serving, except maybe the addition of a final garnish.

These attractive and tasty dishes really lend themselves to being assembled ahead of time – but not too far in advance!

The flavors beautifully blend together and improve after at least 2 hours in the refrigerator, but ideally they’re made no more than 12 hours in advance to prevent your guests from experiencing that notoriously mushy texture.

You’ll also want to be mindful of how you store the finished recipe!

So you don’t ruin your favorite wooden salad bowl with the cold temperature from the fridge and moisture from the ingredients, store the salad in an airtight glass or plastic container, or tightly cover the top of your mixing bowl with plastic wrap.

When you’re ready to serve, transfer it to your preferred serving bowl.

Ready to party? It’s time to make your own!

The Steps

Pasta salads will be much more flavorful and interesting if you make them yourself, rather than buying them from the store.

Get creative with your favorite ingredients and flavors, But you must understand that each part of the preparation process – from choosing the pasta to the final garnish – needs your attention.

While keeping in mind that whatever recipe you’re interested in making will have specific instructions to respectfully adhere to, you can use our basic strategies and advice to guide you every step of the way.

To produce delicious pasta salads every time, just follow these five simple steps for success:

1. Cook the Pasta

The shape of your pasta is an important factor to consider.

Horizontal image of a plateful of a rotini and mixed vegetable recipe.

Choose small, extruded pastas that are easy to eat in one bite in a casual setting – you should be able to eat this salad standing up, with only one hand to hold a utensil and the other to hold your plate or bowl.

With that said, you want to try to avoid the longer noodles like spaghetti or linguine that may be difficult to pierce, unless that shape is specifically called for.

Some ideal shapes are:

  • Cavatelli
  • Elbow macaroni
  • Farfalle
  • Fusilli
  • Orecchiette
  • Penne
  • Rotelle
  • Rotini
  • Small shells

Follow the package directions and cook the pasta in boiling water that is generously seasoned with salt until just tender with a bit of a bite, known as an al dente texture.

Overcooking the pasta is a major cooking mistake, ultimately leading to a soggy and mushy end result. And undercooking is no better – no one wants to bite into weirdly chewy chunks!

Do not rinse the pasta after cooking, which will strip any starches on the exterior and prevent the dressing from clinging properly.

Drain and toss with a splash of olive oil to prevent sticking and cool to room temperature, tossing occasionally to cool evenly.

Instead of olive oil, you can also use a little of the dressing. Add just enough to very lightly coat the pieces.

Consider using your electric pressure cooker to prepare a variety of pasta shapes. Check out our tutorial for elbow macaroni.

2. Prepare the Main Ingredients

Aside from the pasta, next up are the recipe’s other major components.

Horizontal image of a large bowl and a plate of a rotini and mixed vegetable and bean recipe next to a wooden spoon and cherry tomatoes.

Cooked and raw vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood, beans, and cheeses all fall into this group.

Some will require little or no preparation while others may require par-boiling, par-steaming, roasting, sauteing, or grilling.

Grate, chop, slice, and dice as per the directions, ensuring all are cut into bite-sized pieces that are close to the same size, so as not to overwhelm the size of the pasta – as well as the size of the eater’s mouth!

To keep your recipe simple and straightforward, try to select about three major ingredients, letting one of them take the lead.

For example, roasted chicken breast with gently steamed broccoli florets and red bell peppers is a smart, simple, and tasty combination.

The lead ingredient can be distinguished from the others by including it in greater quantities, or using a specific cooking technique.

Consider these popular cooking methods to prepare your main ingredients:

Par-Steamed or Par-Boiled Vegetables

Some of the veggies recommended for these summer salads benefit from par-steaming or par-boiling for that perfect, tender-yet-crispy texture.

Use a pot with a steamer insert, or you can par-boil by adding the veggies to a pot of boiling water, cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute, drain, and cool completely.

While optional, we prefer to shock them in an ice bath after removing veggies from the hot pot to maintain their color and texture.

Good candidates for par-steaming or par-boiling are:

  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli or cauliflower florets
  • Carrots
  • Corn
  • Green beans
  • Snow peas or sugar snap peas

Just like with the pasta, you can also use your electric pressure cooker to expertly steam your vegetables. Review our tutorials for cooking broccoli, green beans, asparagus, carrots, and corn on the cob in the electric pressure cooker.

Raw Vegetables

Choose your favorites from a long list of ingredients that are best served raw. Any of the following would all be deliciously fresh options to include:

  • Avocado
  • Bean sprouts
  • Bell peppers
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Mushrooms
  • Peas
  • Tomatoes (grape, cherry, plum or romas)
  • Zucchini

Particularly when serving raw vegetables, it is important to thoroughly rinse and dry your produce. Don’t let any dirt get in the way of you and your guests enjoying some good eats!

Grilled Vegetables

Grilling vegetables adds smoky layers of depth to the overall flavor of these cool salads.

Horizontal top-down image of a platter with assorted grilled summer produce.
Photo credit: Meghan Yager

Grilled Balsamic Vinegar and Garlic Mixed Vegetables – Get the Recipe Now

Suitable vegetables for the grill include:

Before grilling, brush with olive oil and season with salt and freshly cracked pepper.

If the flavors complement the other ingredients in your pasta salad, try our recipe for grilled balsamic vinegar and garlic mixed vegetables. It’s simple, bright, and tangy!

Roasted Vegetables

How can anyone hate on the deeply caramelized crust and tender interior of expertly roasted vegetables?

This is a great option for producing concentrated savory flavors – perfect for when you want your veggies to take the lead rather than meats.

Smart choices for roasted vegetables include – but are certainly not limited to – the following:

  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Peppers (learn how to roast them 3 ways!)
  • Broccoli or cauliflower florets
  • Carrots
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Parsnips
  • Squash (winter and summer)

A high roasting temperature in the oven, and strategically timed baking sheet rotations and ingredient flips, ensure your vegetables are evenly cooked and a delight to consume.

Proteins and Other Hearty Ingredients

Going beyond beef, poultry, and seafood, there are so many other protein-forward ingredients that can create a hearty addition to your salads.

Some proteins and other options suitable for consideration as main ingredients include:

  • Beans
  • Chicken
  • Firm and mild cheese (cheddar, gouda, havarti, mozzarella)
  • Ham
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Sausage
  • Shellfish (crab, lobster, shrimp, or prawns)
  • Steak
  • Tempeh
  • Tofu
  • Tuna

With this list, you won’t have to worry about finding options for guests and family members who might be adhering to strict vegan or vegetarian diets. And with recipes like our paprika marinated grilled tofu or small baked falafel, you’ll be able to creatively utilize meatless ingredients!

Once your main ingredients are ready to go, mix them with the room temperature pasta.

3. Choose the Flavor Intensives

Bolder and stronger in flavor than the main ingredients, flavor intensives should be used sparingly.

Horizontal top-down image of a plateful of a rotini and mixed vegetable and bean recipe on a wooden table next to cherry tomatoes.

Treat them as minor characters in your dish so that they don’t overwhelm the other ingredients.

Some good options for flavor intensives are:

  • Anchovies, drained and chopped
  • Bacon, crumbled
  • Capers, drained
  • Nuts, roasted and seasoned
  • Olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
  • Pickled vegetables, drained and thinly sliced
  • Prosciutto, thinly sliced or diced
  • Seeds, roasted and seasoned
  • Smoked salmon, thinly sliced, then cut into thin strips
  • Strong or salty cheeses (fresh chevre, blue, feta, parmesan, pecorino)
  • Sun-dried tomatoes, chopped

Don’t add too many intensives, and limit the variety you want to use. Just a few will do!

Add at least one or up to three of this style of ingredient to your salad – again, letting only one of them be the lead.

Stir in your flavor intensives after the main ingredients.

4. Accent with Herbs and Aromatics

Regardless of what else goes into your salad, just a hint of fresh herbs or other aromatics will awaken the dish in its entirety.

Vertical image of a plateful of a pile of rotini with assorted vegetables and seasonings on a dark surface with a dark background.

Use the following herbs and aromatics for a brightening effect:

If you prefer a punch of oniony flavor, a few thinly sliced green onions or scallions, or some diced red onion, will work in pretty much any recipe.

You have an entire garden’s worth of assorted fresh herbs available to use: cilantro, basil, dill, mint, rosemary, tarragon, savory, chives, thyme, and oregano are all good choices.

If you can’t decide on which herbs to use, you’ll always be safe selecting parsley, which is fairly mild and popular.

Add herbs and aromatics with the intensives or with the dressing. This group of ingredients is also ideal as a finishing garnish directly before serving.

5. Add the Dressing

You can make your favorite dressing separately ahead of time, but be sure to give it a good shake before adding it to your salad.

Whether it’s a vinaigrette or a mayonnaise-based sauce, you want to make sure all of the ingredients are well-emulsified before mixing it with the pasta and other ingredients.

Image of the OXO Good Grips Dressing Shaker in green

OXO Good Grips Salad Dressing Shaker, green, available from OXO

The pasta will absorb any ingredients that have separated such as lemon juice or vinegar, so a well-shaken dressing is mandatory.

You can choose to whisk everything together vigorously in a bowl, or go the easier route by utilizing a dressing shaker.

You’ll love the ease and convenience of using this OXO Good Grips Salad Dressing Shaker, available now at Sur La Table in black and directly from OXO in green.

Remember that red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar will slightly discolor the other ingredients, so don’t be shocked to see this after you mix everything together.

And don’t forget that pesto is also a superb dressing idea!

Image of the OXO Good Grips Dressing Shaker in black

OXO Good Grips Salad Dressing Shaker, black, available from Sur La Table

Add the dressing and toss the salad prior to serving. As mentioned before, you want the pasta salad to soak in all of the flavors from the aromatics and the dressing. However, there is definitely a limit on how long the salad should be allowed to sit in the dressing – the texture of the pasta and other ingredients will start to suffer when stored for a long period of time.

Make sure it can rest in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or for up to 12 hours max, before you plan to serve it.

Determine when you want to serve the salad, and work backwards from that moment to figure out the exact timing so you’ll know when you should combine everything. And set a timer!

Recipe Ideas

We can help you craft the perfect dish with some of our own tried-and-true recipes that we love to make for sunny gatherings!

Continue reading for our fresh and fun suggestions.

Ranch BLT

Do you crave the classic flavors of a BLT?

Horizontal top-down image of a large bowl filled with rotini, lettuce shreds, and sliced tomatoes on a green napkin.
Photo credit: Fanny Slater

Ranch BLT Pasta Salad – Get the Recipe Now

Make this fun option inspired by your favorite sandwich, with a creamy dose of ranch dressing.

We toss together rotini, crispy bacon, crunchy romaine, and cherry tomatoes. You may never crave the handheld version ever again after eating this!

And to follow our suggestions appropriately as described above, the bacon and romaine should be tossed in at the last minute to keep them crisp!

Spinach and Sun-Dried Tomato

This is the perfect recipe for those of you who can’t get enough sun-dried tomatoes!

Horizontal image of a large white serving bowl of penne pasta salad with chopped sun-dried tomatoes and fresh spinach, with a wooden spoon with a patterned handle and two white plates with forks on top in the background, on a gathered black and white checkered cloth on top of a gray surface, with scattered fresh greens.
Photo credit: Meghan Yager

Spinach and Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta Salad – Get the Recipe Now

With a crafty blend of oil, balsamic vinegar, and fresh herbs coating the penne, the fresh spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, red onions, and olives get to play in this tangy mix.

Crumbled feta cheese adds a salty punch.

Grilled Tomato and Broccolini with Balsamic Vinaigrette

This isn’t your standard balsamic vinaigrette!

An oblique view of a single bowl full of Grilled Tomato and Broccoli Pasta Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette.
Photo credit: Raquel Smith

Grilled Tomato and Broccolini Pasta Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette – Get the Recipe Now

With ground cumin and ground ginger, the dressing includes a unique combo of spices, and it is the perfect accompaniment to all of the other ingredients in this carby mix.

You’ll love the lightly charred grilled broccolini and cherry tomatoes – which are literally bursting with flavor – mixed with rotini and grated parmesan cheese.

Butternut Squash and Kale

Yes, yes, yes – while spring and summer are the typical seasons to enjoy pasta salads, we couldn’t entirely leave out fall and winter!

Top down view of a kale and butternut orzo past salad in white bowl on a white wooden table. A wooden spoon sits to the upper left of the bowl and an empty lemon peel to the upper right.
Photo credit: Raquel Smith

Butternut Squash and Kale Pasta Salad – Get the Recipe Now

If you’re in need of a heartier fall or winter side dish, check out this cold-weather rendition featuring seasonal produce.

We mix together roasted kale and butternut squash cubes with orzo and a light lemony dressing.

Lemon Basil with Vegan Parmesan

Alright, that’s enough snow. Let’s get back to summer!

Horizontal image of orzo mixed with tomatoes and herbs on a plate next to bread, corn, and a lemon wedge.
Photo credit: Raquel Smith

Lemon Basil Orzo Pasta Salad with Vegan Parmesan – Get the Recipe Now

Put on your sunglasses for this sunny and vegan-friendly version that includes a brilliant mix of orzo, freshly squeezed lemon juice, fresh basil, and cherry tomatoes.

We also share our bonus recipe for an easy, homemade vegan parmesan substitute made with walnuts, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, and sea salt.

Fresh Tomato

Another incredible option when the tomatoes are ripe for the plucking beneath the summer sun, this will be your ultimate summer side dish.

Tomato pasta salad in a blue bowl with a brown wooden spoon.
Photo credit: Meghan Yager

Fresh Tomato Pasta Salad – Get the Recipe Now

Ripe tomatoes and fresh basil come together with penne, fresh mozzarella, and parmesan cheese.

Fresh Pesto with Green Peas

This pasta salad is creamy and dreamy with fresh pesto and peas, and the contrasting tart and savory tastes of the lemon juice and parmesan cheese are wonderful flavor bombs on your taste buds.

Horizontal image of penne with peas, pesto, and basil in a green plate.
Photo credit: Lorna Kring

Fresh Pesto Pasta Salad with Green Peas – Get the Recipe Now

It’s an ideal option for the picnic basket packed with cold cuts, some greens, and homemade lemonade or cold beer.


Like Sicily herself, this salad is full of intense Mediterranean flavors. The sauce includes a cooked mix of fragrant garlic, onions, bell peppers, zucchini, tomato paste, and white wine. And there’s also sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, olives, and fresh herbs in the mix.

Pecorino cheese is the final salty topping, an aged, sharp sheep’s milk cheese that crumbles easily.

Horizontal image of penne mixed with olives, herbs, and tomatoes next to a metal fork in bowl.
Photo credit: Felicia Lim

Sicilian Pasta Salad – Get the Recipe Now

Serve with a crusty Italian loaf and bright red wine to balance the earthy tomato sauce.

Fresh Corn

This tasty dish is bright and colorful summer in a bowl, with fresh sweet corn kernels, zesty lemon, and basil flavoring a base of farfalle.

Horizontal image of farfalle mixed with red onions, corn, and basil in a wooden bowl next to a salt shaker, bowl of dressing, lemon wedges, and a metal fork.
Photo credit: Felicia Lim

Fresh Corn Pasta Salad – Get the Recipe Now

Serve this alongside hamburgers and hot dogs at a sunny summer cookout or picnic!

Creative Combinations

And now you know how to make the perfect pasta salad, complete with our list of suggested recipes to try.

Horizontal image of a large bowl and a plate of a rotini and mixed vegetable and bean recipe next to a wooden spoon and cherry tomatoes.

If you’re new to making this type of dish, we recommend sticking with the recipe for your first few tries before you start experimenting.

Follow our steps closely, be mindful of how long you let the finished mix sit in the refrigerator, and enjoy every fresh bite!

Once you become comfortable with all of the recommended steps, you’ll gain the confidence to play with whatever flavors you’re interested in trying the next time.

You have all summer to try as many new ingredient combinations as you like! And the fun doesn’t stop there – host your next shindig soon, and serve your latest creation to your hungry and excited guests.

Do you have a favorite pasta salad you love to make? What are your own pieces of advice to achieve the best flavors and textures? Leave a comment below with your ideas!

If you want to continue learning how to make the best food for a fun party, feast on a few more helpful articles from Foodal with step-by-step guidelines, tips, tricks, and recipe suggestions:

Photos by Fanny Slater, Meghan Yager, Lorna Kring, Felicia Lim, and Raquel Smith © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Uncredited photos via Shutterstock. Product photos via OXO and Sur La Table. Originally published on July 2, 2015. Last updated on May 8, 2023. With additional writing and editing by Nikki Cervone.

About Lorna Kring

Recently retired as a costume specialist in the TV and film industry, Lorna now enjoys blogging on contemporary lifestyle themes. A bit daft about the garden, she’s particularly obsessed with organic tomatoes and herbs, and delights in breaking bread with family and friends.

87 thoughts on “5 Steps for a Perfect Pasta Salad”

  1. Usually when I make pasta, I always make it with lots and lots of vegetables, and different dressings, and rarely made a sauce to go with it, because it was easy and lasted longer. Now I get to know that it actually has a name- Pasta Salad! 😀
    The way I usually make has a bit of an Indian flavor to it, using coriander leaves, onions, cumin and other vegetables with some indigenous masalas.

    • Your Indian flavors are a natural for these types of dishes and sound delicious… will have to give it a try this summer.

  2. I’m fairly new to vinegar, can you give some examples of more mild flavored vinegars? Your list of intensives has me craving a pasta salad, and I haven’t made one in years. This is the perfect time of year to experiment with this type of recipe, to find a few variations that will work best and be popular with my family. One of my favorite noodles to cook for dinner, as well as pasta salads, is tri-color rotini, since it adds flavor, as well as interest to whatever dish it’s used in.

    • I tend to react like Pavlov’s dog over the intensives too! Some milder vinegars appropriate for pasta salads would be: champagne, white wine, cane (from sugar cane), rice wine and vinegars flavored with herbs such as tarragon or rosemary will all tend to have a gentler taste to them. Let us know how your experiments turn out.

  3. The photos all look beautiful. The vegetables make it so colorful and capture the essence of spring and summer.

  4. Lorna, you must have read my mind – I was just thinking about how much I hope there’s a new Foodal post on pasta soon! I’ve never had a salad of this type before, only cooked noodles or in a tomato-free lasagna. This sounds like it could be a real winner for when having people over, though, and I especially like all the suggestions for ingredients in here. It gives a lot of variety to choose from. You could make enough different mixes to feed a small army with all the options!
    I think I’ll give this a try with rigatoni, asparagus, snap peas, feta cheese some time!

    • That sounds like a great combo nightwind, and you’re right – pasta salads are ideal for entertaining. Hope you enjoy your first one!

  5. I agree, getting the flavor combination right in a pasta salad is so important. This is a great, easy-to-follow guide. Both of those recipes look amazing as well. I’d never thought to toss the freshly-cooked pasta with olive oil prior to mixing the salad, though, thanks for the tip!

  6. Thanks for this article Lorna, whilst I love pasta salads, there’s nothing worse than one which is either too soggy or too starchy. I think that rinsing and thoroughly draining the pasta is key to success.

  7. Too right mb, if you begin with well rinsed and drained pasta, chances are the rest will fall into place too…and avoid those bad, soggy/starchy pasta salads!

  8. These are great. I’m digging the Sicilian pasta salad. Some serious comfort food that you can just eat bowls of. I actually haven’t made stuff like this too much. I’m wanting to now. Bow tie or penne pasta. I have not had the bow tie pasta in so long. It’s easier to eat and I think it digests better than the penne. Funny though I haven’t bought it much now that I think of it. I’ll be doing a gluten free one for sure. I love olives, especially black ones. The only thing about that is it raises your histamine levels. A little insomnia maybe. Maybe just a few instead. Recipe says a 16 oz can. Maybe artichokes or brussels sprouts would be a good change up.

    • The Sicilian is a taste treat Love2eat, and I think either artichokes, roasted red peppers or capers would work well as a sub for some of the olives.

  9. These tips and recipes are going to be a great help to me, especially at this time of the year! I’ve been trying quite a few salads lately, and I tried out a few pasta recipes too. Sadly, they didn’t work out too well at all, and ever since I’ve only thought of them as quite bland and boring. I like these recipes a lot: the Sicilian version looks particularly good!

  10. Wow, I’m not going to lie all of these pasta salads look amazing! I have always loved them but have never made one before. It seems to me that its usually something an older lady brings to church gatherings or something. I’m excited about the steps to making my own, so I have tips to make my own recipe as well! Hopefully I can make something that looks as delicious as those pictures!

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Larson15… just follow the steps and your pasta salads will be delicious. Thanks for your comments.

  11. This article gave me plenty of great ideas to try out for new pasta salad recipes. Unfortunately a lot of the ingredients mentioned that would allow for a truly scrumptious treat, are not available in my pantry. But, there’s a recipe my partner and I came up with, that makes for a nice-light-filling-nutritious pasta salad variation. You start off with penne style noodles, cook those for 5-10 minutes in boiling water. Drain. Open two cans of tuna and one can of peas. Then drain the excess fluids. Add those to the mix. If you want adding corn or green beans also works well in this adaptation. Next, bring out parmesan, olive oil, lemon juice, thyme, dill, balsamic vinegar or apple cider vinegar, either works, and mix it all together in whatever quantities you think will mesh well. Just eye balling the ingredients we came up with a delicious lunch out on the town. However, I will say that the addition of pine nuts, spinach, and fresh basil, may prove to be better choices, as evidenced by the pesto-pasta-salad-recipe here. I will have to try it out. What experiments have you conducted?

  12. Love love love a great pasta salad as a side dish! The wonderful colors and aromas are awesome no matter what time of year (I am Italian after all). These tips are great, definitely tweaking my own recipe a bit to try this one out!

  13. Usually, when mom and I make pasta, we only put sauce on it -be it pesto, tomato or carbonara. We’ve never really tried making any other pasta dish. Well, mostly because we’ve never been confident enough to try. Hopefully, we’ll be able to try this one especially since it’s almost Christmas (and new year! Time to try new stuffs!!!) 😀

  14. Can’t believe I never tried making a pasta salad! I absolutely LOVE pasta. This seems like a great food to take with you to work and eat it for lunch. I really love the pesto one! Gonna make it next week, thanks for providing me the idea and awesome recipes 🙂

  15. This was a great read and I will definitely try and switch up the veggies I normally use with some recommended here. I tend to like spicy food and although this may be a bit odd, I add some jalapeno or habenero pepers to the mix just to add a bit of a kick. My family and friends love it and it makes the salad stand out a bit more.

  16. I absolutely love pasta salads, but they never taste quite as good as the ones you get at resteraunts or the ready made ones. These steps are simple and easy to follow, I really look forward to making pasta salads in the future. Thank you so much! 🙂

  17. Sometimes it takes a bit of experimenting to get the right combo lauve, but once you do you’ll be in taste heaven! Glad you enjoyed the post.

  18. This article is seriously making me wish I hadn’t already bought the ingredients for tonight’s dinner! I’m always at a loss when it comes to side dishes and both of those recipes look amazing, I’m going to try one tomorrow for sure. My boyfriend loves pasta and anything that I can prepare ahead of time and pull out of the fridge is a huge plus for me!

  19. I’m a huge pasta enthusiast, but I’ve never made any scratch myself. I usually buy a product from the deli sections in stores already made, but you’re right that they can be bland sometimes. I love a good broccoli, crab, or pea pasta salad the most. I love making the boxed versions, especially the ranch ones which I add black olives to. So I usually just buy boxed versions and add ingredients to it myself, that way I know I’m not going to mess anything up and it’s going to be flavorful, but I may try out some of my own this summer after seeing this post!

  20. I’m such a big pasta lover that I’ll eat it in any form! Hot, cold, too soft, too starchy – anything, haha! Pasta salads are one of my favourite dishes. I love being creative and mixing different ingredients together. My favourite things to add to pasta salads are tomatoes (especially sun-dried), shrimps and cheese (I love adding feta). I really liked the recipe with pesto – I have never dried something like this before, but it looks delicious! Thank you for the article 🙂

    • Mmmmm, sun-dried toms, shrimp, and feta… sounds delish Cilivren! Thanks for your comments, and glad you enjoyed the post.

  21. Pasta salads are not only healthy, but a nice light meal. I love the pictures above because they are so colorful and appealing. I generally like to use store bought dressings, but I want to start making my own. I plan to eat more of the leafy green variety during the summer to help me to lose weight. I also love these types of dishes because they’re a quick and easy way to make for lunch or dinner.

    • They’re wonderful any time of the year Deeishere111, but especially good in the summer for a light meal! And even better with your own dressings… thanks for your comments.

  22. Thank you so much for this! I have been looking for a good pasta salad recipe for the longest. I normally just make tri colored wheat rotini pasta , tomato, onions , vinegar and oil. I have so many ideas now!

  23. I’m a huge pasta salad fan. I used to literally keep a pasta salad in the fridge at all times. I never really plan mine out. I normally just clean I out the fridge and dump a bunch of veggies into it.
    I think using this post I may try to get a little more sophisticated in my pasts salad ingredients lol!

    • There so versatile they can handle the ‘fridge dump’ method brandiesha! But a little sophistication never hurt either… thanks for your comments!

  24. I absolutely love pasta salad, but have never once made my own. One reason could be that I would likely eat the entire batch myself in one sitting. Another was a misconception of difficulty. I will be condensing your fantastic post onto a recipe card for future reference, your suggestions for pairings and combinations are refreshing and helpful, I never would have thought to par-boil or par-steam veggies to help their texture better pair the overall dish. The Sicilian Pasta Salad looks absolutely delicious, I’m very sad to be reading this recipe in the late night hours and not able to make it right now to enjoy for breakfast!

    • Haha! Oh yes, I’ve had my share for breakfast too xina4581! And if you enjoy sharp flavors, the Sicilian is a show stopper… enjoy!

  25. The pesto recipe looks magnificent. I’m generally a fan of pesto on just about anything, usually on noodles, in a sandwich or even on some toast with breakfast. I’d never really considered incorporating into pasta salad, but that definitely would be delicious.

    Thank you for sharing these wonderful ideas, Lorna. Definitely some food for thought!

    • I understand your pesto appreciation JoshLyman, it’s got me hooked big time! Glad you enjoyed the post, and you’re going to love the pesto version…

  26. I love making pasta salad because of how you can mix and match the ingredients. Thanks for the great ideas on how to put the recipes together and all the great ingredient options you posted! I love to make a big batch of cold pasta salad as an easy summer meal!

  27. Pasta salad or macaronj salad has always been a favorite of mine. Growing up we kept it simple with elbow macaroni, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and ranch dressing. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve tasted other kinds with vinaigrette bases and other veggies. In this article chicken was mentioned to be used which I’ve never heard of. This makes the southern in me wonder if there is a way to cross macaroni salad and chicken salad?! Grilled chicken is always great in any cold dish so now the possibilities are endless for us this summer!

    • Chicken is awesome in any dish CharlotteMartin, and a natural in pasta salads! Enjoy your experiments this summer…

  28. I really can’t get on with pasta salad, it just never tastes quite right to me. The only recipe I do actually enjoy is pasta with pesto and pine nuts and parmesan. I do love pasta, just not cold.

  29. Pasta salad is absolutely one of my favorites. It also serves well as a summer dish and I think it is pretty easy to make. I love the variety you can create according to individual tastes. Some days I will put different things in my concoctions depending on my cravings.

    You mention that if you make your own noodles it will be more flavorful. I have NEVER made my own! It is quite intimidating to me! I am going to have to check out your tutorial you mention on this post and experiment. I think it will be interesting and give the dish a fresher taste, which is always good.

    The recipes that you listed here look so wonderful. I love the simplicity in the terms of being able to alter recipes to fit individual tastes too. Thanks for sharing!


    • Making your own noodles certainly gives the freshest taste jamie, but it is a bit labor intensive and having a press will help too. Have fun making your own signature flavors!

  30. Hmmm, cold pasta? I have never really tried it. I guess it’s not so commonly served where I’m from. Generally, when we talk about a noodle dish it’s often accompanied with red sauces. The redder the better. People in my circle find noodles that aren’t coated well with the red sauce a fail. So, I’m not too sure if this will work with them. As for me, I won’t mind trying this out. I have recently developed a taste for pesto, so I can just imagine how wonderful said salad would taste. Besides, I already love avocados. So, my taste buds will be happy. The Sicilian pasta looks delectable, too. We’ll see if my taste buds will agree with cold pastas.

    • It might be an acquired taste for you saravet, but worth a try if you enjoy pesto or the flavor intensives in the Sicilian version… and you could always make your own cold style with your favorite red sauce!

  31. These are great ideas to jazz up otherwise uninspired pasta salads. I always like my salads to have a bit of a bite. One of my favourite things to do is make a paste of mustard seeds and olive oil and add this to the dressing. I find it adds an interesting twist. Avocados are another brilliant addition to salads. My family’s plantation has several avocado trees and growing up, the only way we ate them was mashed up with sugar. While that’s great, it seems criminal that I never even thought to experiment with it any other way! Time to make up for that. 🙂

    • Mustard seeds would be great for a flavor hit psanch, great idea… and enjoy your experiments with the avocados!

  32. Does anyone know any recipes involving tomato sauce or paste? I’m a huge tomato lover and I’d love to know what would go well with pasta served with tomato sauce. My doctor also says I need to increase my intake of Vitamin C as I’m mildly deficient and I’m kind of paranoid about contracting scurvy and having all my teeth fall out!

    • Any recipe for hot noodles using a tomato or rose sauce would work Luis, just modify the amounts and cool the sauce first before adding to a cold version.

  33. Great ideas, Lorna! I grew up Italian, so cold salad was just one of countless ways we served pasta; thus, I wasn’t expecting to find so many wonderful variations as you came up with here. I can see using a milder vinegar to prevent overpowering the rest of the ingredients, especially when including a real taste knock-out, such as a sharp cheese. Still, I do prefer a vinegar with a real bite to it. And olive oil is an absolute must.

    I also prefer a vinegar-and-oil base to a mayonnaise base; the latter seems more suited to a standard macaroni salad (and, of course potato salad). There’s also the question of safety, if the salad has to travel anywhere, or sits out for more than a short while.

    One idea I had never considered was setting out “individual servings in edible, natural bowls, like tomatoes or cucumbers with the seeds removed.” That’s brilliant! A cucumber “bowl” would be especially refreshing.

    Now you’ve also got me thinking about other possibilities for edible bowls. The first thing that comes to mind is a red bell pepper (cut and seeded as if preparing stuffed bells). Raw would be just fine, but I can see grilling the bell just long enough to bring out a smoky flavor and stir up the natural juices inside, but not so long that the whole “bowl” would collapse.

    I’m really looking forward to summer now! Thanks, Lorna!

    • Onion bowls are another good choice Mangiare, and like your idea for red peppers, lightly grilled. Lop off a third of the root end, and make a deep “X” incision into the inner rings – then gently wiggle the piece out.

      Thanks for your comments, and love your enthusiasm for this delicious Italian idea!

  34. Pasta salad? I never heard of something like this in my life but my mouth is dripping from the pictures, I imagine it tastes amazing!
    I’m particularly fond of the Sicilian Pasta Salad showcased in the article, I’m a big fan of the Italian Cuisine and I’m a big sucker for rosemary and thyme.

    • You’re in for a treat fuzyon, particularly if you enjoy the sharp flavors and herbs of Italian cuisine. Enjoy!

  35. I’ve always had a deep love for pasta salads and no wonder – I’m a huge pasta junkie! The only problem that I’ve always had is that I can’t get mine to turn out well no matter what I do! I don’t really get why, it must be something about the way I prepare it, but my salads always have this weird side-taste that I can’t get rid of. One day I’ll give it another go and actually try out these tips. I’m going to bookmark this page and prepare it step-by-step. Thank you!

  36. What would you suggest is the appropriate acidity and tartness levels for pasta salad if you are serving to a group of people?

    I made pasta salad for myself last week and used a basic italian dressing. However, I found the taste someone bland and added some extra whit vinegar for some kick. I felt it was much better with the additional vinegar, but I am prone to liking extreme flavors. I would like to bring pasta salad to some picnics this summer and am concerned that my personal tastes won’t be enjoyed by a group at large.

    • Specialty vinegar’s like champagne or rose vinegar might give the flavor you’re looking for without being overpowering dame. Or perhaps add some of the stronger flavored herbs to your dressing for a bit of oomph… hope your salads turn out well!

  37. I have a recurring problem with pasta salads and that is that the pasta is often slimy by the time we start to eat it. I’ve tried transporting it in different containers, or not adding the ingredients until serving time. I always toss it in a little olive oil and let it cool before packing it. Very occasionally it’s fine – but I can’t work out what I did differently. Maybe it’s the cooking time. I always cook pasta al dente, whether to eat warm, immediately or to let cool. Should pasta that is to be left to cool be cooked a minute or so less?

    • Have you tried letting the pasta cool before adding the oil or dressing. I am no expert on this at all. I am wondering though if it has something to do with how the oil or dressing is reacting to the heat of the warm noodle? Just tossing it out there.

    • I don’t think the cooking time should be adjusted Julie, but try to let the pasta cool completely before covering it for transport. Or, just cover with a clean tea towel rather than an airtight container as they can make ingredients sweat.

  38. What a great recipe! I love pasta salad, but I always find myself making the same kind over and over. I’ve fallen into a routine of unexciting pasta dishes, but I think these new suggestions will snap me out of it! I like the idea of making bite-sized portions using hollowed out tomato or cucumber. I feel like doing this would make it perfect to bring to a cookout and fun for all to eat! Thank you for sharing this, I’ll definitely be using this information to defy the laws of pasta salads.

  39. I just love pasta and do not need a special occasion to gorge on it. We make ours with raw tomatoes and lots of tomato sauce. It is usually very spicy. My wife makes another variation with cream, onion and potatoes as the main ingredients. It is simple but very tasty. Your recipes look so impressive that I will probably try all of them.

  40. Pasta salad is honestly a dish I make often in the summer. We usually make it as a side dish, but we have added grilled chicken to the recipe before and turned one of our favorite dishes into a full meal with no other accompaniments.

    We like that you can make it ahead of time and it will keep for a few days in the fridge. This means we don’t have to turn on the oven on days that it is too hot. Also, if we are bringing it to a picnic or potluck, we can make it in advance and not worry about last minute cooking before the event.

    Truthfully, we don’t stick to one specific recipe for ours. Normally, we use pretty much whatever is on hand. However, whether we make a salad loaded with meat or a vegetarian version, we almost always include both bell peppers and onions of some variety.

    • They’re wonderfully versatile Lisa, and are perfect for a pulled-together, “what’s in the fridge?” kind of meal! Thanks for your thoughts.

  41. Well I am glad to see that they include a lot of color in this article, because I do think that pasta salad is one of the major foods where appearance does matter a lot, and more so than other foods. All of the ingredients that they have are perfect, and of course olives are a must, and I am also glad that they speak to the Asian-flavored pasta salads, because those are some of my favorite. A little sesame and teriyaki flavor is perfect for a pasta salad.

  42. I was really happy to stumble upon this blog about pasta salad. I boast myself on being able to prepare any dish given that I have the right ingredients. For some reason I always fall short in the pasta salad department. I’m not sure what the exact problem is but it seems the noodles never hold up as I expect them to and the dressing never quite tastes as I hope it will. I think I need to slightly under cook my noodles in the future as maybe I am not accounting for the dressing being absorbed by the noodle. You mention a well-shaken dressing is mandatory, and I think that also may be one of my problems. I’m excited to try these recipes as I always have improvised in the past and added whatever I thought would taste good together. First and foremost I am certainly going to be trying the pesto and pea salad recipe. Also, I think peas could be added to any pasta salad and be a nice addition.

  43. I have always loved pasta salad but I’ve only ever had the really simple ones. These recipes seem to be so fresh and tasty and colorful. I know I’ll enjoy both making and eating pasta salad from now on.

  44. I love what a fantastic blank canvas pasta is, it really can take on almost any flavor and work with all sorts of combinations. Even just served with a handful of chopped herbs, squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of a nice balsamic vinegar makes an extremely quick snack or meal accompaniment. I recently made what I thought would be a healthy pasta salad for a kids party… and included beetroot – which naturally made all the pasta a weird purple color! Remarkably, the more open-minded kids were not put off like their parents where and did end up eating most of it, even if the adults couldn’t get around the weirdness! I will definitely give the pesto salad with peas recipe a go, it looks absolutely delicious!

  45. It is amazingly versatile, and can be dressed up or down with so many flavors. Interesting about the kids, they obviously haven’t made up their minds about what pasta art “should” look like! Hope you enjoy the peas and pesto!

  46. I tried this recipe a couple of weeks ago and I just had to come back and leave a comment. It turned out so good, and everyone was impressed. My friends had come over for supper and it was a big hit with everyone. Thanks for sharing the recipe. It was quick and super easy to make.


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