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.