The Best Pasta Salad Recipe Ever!
When I first started cooking too many years ago to count, one of the recipes I learned was pasta salad. This side dish is super flavorful and perfect for potluck meals, picnics, office parties, your dinner table, or as a main course. The versatile salad can be served room temperature or chilled (depending on your preference) and it travels well.
Don’t have an ingredient on hand? Skip it. Or you can clean out your refrigerator and throw in what you have available. Need a vegetarian version? Skip the meat. Need to bulk up on your veggies? Add extra.
I love to venture out when making pasta salad, and use a bigger, bulkier noodle that soaks up the dressing. Seeing that my local grocery store chain is Publix, they almost always have BOGO on boxed pastas, which I keep on hand for side dishes like this. My favorite pasta shapes are fusilli, farfalle, and classic penne.
Cook your pasta in salted boiling water for the time listed on the package. Then, drain it in a colander to make sure all of the water is out. Run cold (or ice) water immediately over the pasta to stop the cooking process. If you don’t, your pasta will be mushy.
Drain fully and pour into a large bowl, or the cooled pan you cooked it in will be fine.
What Accompaniments Go in Pasta Salad?
Honestly, your best pasta salad can be made straight from the recipe, or with whatever vegetables you have on hand. Mine always includes finely diced onion (white or red, preferably), cucumber, and tomatoes. If I have the following items, I finely dice them, as well.
- red, orange, or yellow peppers
- carrots (I prefer shredded)
- summer squash
You can also add meat to your pasta salad. The bulkier, the better in my book. I often use sliced pepperoni, poached chicken, or cubed ham, which makes the pasta salad filling enough to be a main dish.
Be creative, use what you have.
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Now comes the dressing choice. I always think homemade is best, but sometimes I don’t feel like pulling out all the spices, measuring them, and washing more dishes. In that case, I use a few different types of go-to dressings that you can find in the refrigerated section of your grocery store.
Using remade products can also help you track calories, save time, and use those leftover bottled ingredients taking up space in the refrigerator door. My favorites dressing choices, whether oil or mayo based, for the best pasta salad recipe are:
- Brianna’s Ranch or Real French Vinaigrette (sugar-free!)
- Litehouse Organic Lemon Herb Vinaigrette Dressing or Opa Tzatziki Ranch Greek Yogurt Dressing
- Marie’s Creamy Avocado Poblano Dressing or Greek Vinaigrette
- Marzetti Simply 60 Dressing Garlic Parmesan or Red Wine Italian Vinaigrette (low WW points, too!)
- Annie’s Natural Caesar (I love how the Caesar dressing adds such a bold bite to pasta salad)
Who doesn’t love a good chunk of cheese in anything? I like to add about 1/2 a block of medium cheddar or pepper jack cheese (or both!), cut in small cubes. You can also add shredded parmesan, which adds a nice saltiness to your pasta salad, but make sure your salad is cold first.
Olives are another popular ingredient. Make sure they are pitted. Kalamata olives and a Greek theme to your pasta salad (think Feta cheese, red onion, cucumber, Greek seasoning) would be really tasty.
Beans work well, too, and add great nutrition: protein, magnesium, and fiber. Cannelini beans (white Italian kidney beans) work well, but chickpeas are easier to find, and more affordable.
The Secret Ingredient
The pasta salad recipe I fell in love with, was coated with McCormick Perfect Pinch Salad Seasoning. This single jar is loaded with flavor, and keeps you from having to measure out many different spices, and keep them on hand. McCormick Salad Seasoning is bursting with flavor from sesame seed, garlic, paprika, Romano cheese, celery seed, and more. It is also great sprinkled on chicken and vegetables, so you can use in other ways besides pasta salad.
This pasta salad pairs well with grilled chicken or our Crescent-Wrapped Chicken Parmesan.Print
The Best Pasta Salad Ever!
This pasta salad recipe can be as simple as you like, with ingredients you may already have on hand, and serves as a delicious side dish for any meal. I’ve made this pasta salad for 35 years and only had rave reviews. Serve chilled or room temperature; travels well.
- Prep Time: 20 min
- Cook Time: 10-12 min
- Total Time: 20 min
- Yield: 8 1x
- Category: salad, side dish
- Cuisine: Italian
- 1# box of farfalle pasta (fusilli or penne work well, too)
- 3/4 cup diced cucumber
- 1/2 cup diced Roma tomatoes (any will do)
- 1/2 cup diced white or red onion
- 3/4 cup diced yellow, orange, or red pepper
- 12–16 ounces dressing of your choice (see above or below)
- 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
- 1/4 tsp. pepper
- 1/3 cup pitted olives (optional)
- 4 oz. cheese (optional) (I use feta, medium cheddar, or diced pepper jack)
- 1/2 to 1 cup beans, drained and washed (optional) (I use chickpeas most often)
- 1/2–3/4 cup diced broccoli (optional)
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar (you can use white wine or apple cider vinegar, but the amount may need adjusted)
- 1 Tbsp. sugar
- 1 tsp. coarse salt
- 1/2 tsp. pepper
- 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp. dried basil
- dash of red chili flakes (optional)
- 2–3 Tbsp. McCormick Salad Seasoning (see above), (optional)
- Cook pasta in boiling, salted water according to package directions. Drain in a colander (reserve 3-4 Tbsp cooking water) and immediately rinse the pasta in cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain thoroughly and transfer to a mixing bowl.
- While the pasta is cooking, add all dressing ingredients to a small bowl, minus the extra virgin olive oil.
- Slowly pour the oil into the dressing bowl, whisking to emulsify. Stir in the reserved cooking water. Set aside.
- Stir the onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and any other optional ingredients of your choice into the mixing bowl with pasta.
- Reserving about 1/4 cup of the dressing mix, stir the remaining salad dressing over the pasta salad. Toss to coat.
- Refrigerate until ready to serve. Freshen up with remaining dressing the next day, or as needed.
Pasta salad dries out quickly, so keeping the reserved dressing until you are ready to serve is important. It will also go a longer way if you allow the pasta to come to room temperature before adding. Pasta salad is even better the second day, after the flavors have had time to marry.
Keywords: pasta salad