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The Do’s and Don’ts of Pasta Salad, and 8 Recipes to Try

Antipasto pasta salad by Host the Toast, chicken Caesar pasta salad by Salt and Lavender, and Mediterranean pasta salad by Love and Lemons.
Host the Toast/Salt and Lavender/Love and Lemons

Pasta salad can be so much more than a last-minute potluck dish! With the right ingredients and a few helpful hints, you can create a nutritious meal that’ll fill everyone up. Let’s look at some pasta salad do’s and don’ts and some of our fave recipes.

Why Pasta Salad Is the Perfect Summer Meal

From selecting your ingredients to building your salad, there are numerous reasons that this cold and fresh take on pasta makes for a yummy summer meal. Below are just a few:

  • Use that overabundance of veggies: If you have a garden, pasta salad is a great way to ensure that none of that fresh veg goes to waste. Squash, zucchini, asparagus, tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onions all add color, flavor, and depth to a pasta salad.
  • Use some of those fresh herbs: Same as above, pasta salad is a great way to use any extra fresh herbs. Just make sure that whatever you use complements the other ingredients in your salad. For example, parsley and basil will do well with any pasta salad that calls for Greek, Italian, or Mediterranean-inspired ingredients, while dill works with salmon. Be sure to add cilantro to any salad with Mexican-inspired ingredients. Always add fresh herbs at the end, right before serving.
  • You can make it ahead of time: That is, the day before, not like, three days before. Of course, if your salad calls for delicate ingredients, like fresh spinach leaves or arugula, you’ll still want to add those right before serving.
  • It can be a meal: A big batch of pasta salad will feed you, your spouse, and even your kids for a few days. There’s no better cold lunch for work, school, or day camp than leftover pasta salad.
  • Most contain lots of veggies and protein: Pasta salads are really nutritious, so be sure to make one for dinner at least once a week.
  • They’re versatile: As long as you always use ingredients that complement one another, you can have fun and get creative with your pasta salads. Check out the recipes below for some inspiration.

Three Rules for Making a Perfect Pasta Salad

Again, you always feel free to get creative when making any dish—that’s what makes cooking fun! If you’ve never made a pasta salad before, though, below are a few ways to ensure that you get a delicious result every time:

  • Choose the right pasta: Leave those long strands of fettuccine and spaghetti on the shelf. Pasta salad isn’t meant to sop up rich sauces with fork twirls. Instead, you need a small-to-medium-sized pasta with fun nooks, crannies, or grooves to absorb those tasty dressings and pick up some herbs and crumbly cheeses. Rotini, cavatappi, farfalle, and campanelle will all work.
  • Don’t overcook or undercook your pasta: We can probably all agree that overcooked, mushy pasta is a fail. If you add veggies and dressing to it, all you’ll get is a soggy mess. Remember that after the pasta is cooked, it also goes in the fridge to harden up a bit. This is why undercooking it will lead to unpleasantly hard pasta. Always use a timer and cook your pasta just a minute or two past al dente. Then, drain the water and toss it in a bit of olive oil to avoid sticking. Avoid butter, as it will harden when the pasta cools.
  • Dress it at the right time: After your pasta is cooked and still warm, add some dressing. Coat it evenly and allow it to soak in. Add the remainder of your dressing right before serving. Remember that leafy greens, like spinach, go in toward the end as well.

Now that you have some pointers, it’s time to try some tasty recipes!

Mediterranean Pasta Salad

A large bowl of pasta salad filled with feta cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, basil and more.
Love and Lemons

There are several recipes for Italian and Mediterranean pasta salads. In fact, it’s usually the one that ends up at any given summer picnic. But here’s the one we love most! Cherry tomatoes, chickpeas, cucumber, and feta cheese all work wonders in this delicious cold dinner.

The homemade dressing and fresh herbs serve amazingly to create a fresh and seasonal meal that the whole family will love. Add some grilled chicken and make it a dinner that you can eat outdoors.

Get the Recipe: Love and Lemons

Pasta Salad with Pesto

Two image: The left image is of all the ingredients for a pesto pasta salad before being mixed into a delicious pasta salad, and the right image is of pasta salad plated and ready to eat.
Once Upon a Chef

Get ready to eat loads of green with this zesty pasta salad! First, you’ll make a scratch pesto dressing that’ll coat the fusilli pasta just right!

After you add the fresh mozzarella pearls and toasted pine nuts, you’ll whoo over the intensely fresh flavor in every bite!

Get the Recipe: Once Upon a Chef

Antipasto Tortellini Pasta Salad

A big bowl of tortellini antipasto pasta salad with ingredients surrounding the bowl including cherry tomatoes, garlic, basil, pepper flakes etc.
Host the Toast

When you can’t get enough of the tasty components of an antipasto platter, you transform it into a meal that everyone will love! Cheese tortellini, Soppressata, pepperoni, provolone, and mozzarella all make up the meat and cheese in this one!

Add in some red onion, pepperoncini, olives, cherry tomatoes, and—holy cow! Do you have a filling meal that everyone will love! It’s the perfect summertime salad to bring to any party and does well packed up for lunch throughout the week.

Get the Recipe: Host the Toast

Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad

Two images of chicken Caesar pasta salad.
Salt and Lavender

If you enjoy an occasional Caesar salad for the fresh flavors and not so much for the healthy element, then add in some pasta and bacon and call it lunch!

The best part is that this recipe is adaptable to the amount of time you have. Feel free to make the dressing and croutons from scratch and grill your own chicken if you have the time. Otherwise, use a cooked rotisserie chicken and store-bought dressing and croutons.

Get the Recipe: Salt and Lavender

Mexican Street Corn Pasta Salad

Two images: The left image is of Mexican street corn pasta salad in a bowl with green onions in the background and the right image is of a bowl of the pasta salad with a spoonful zoomed in.
Bowl of Delicious

A whole lot is going on in this pasta salad, but if you love Mexican street corn, it’s a must! Your farfalle will disappear among all the other flavorful ingredients like corn, jalapenos, green onions, and crumbled cotija cheese!

Omit the cilantro if you aren’t a fan and sub it for parsley to keep the green.

Get the Recipe: Bowl of Delicious

Salmon and Asparagus Pasta Salad

A large bowl full of rotini pasta salad with basil, asparagus and salmon garnished with lemon.
Hungry Healthy Happy

Grilled salmon and asparagus are the stars in this tasty pasta salad, accompanied by crunchy greens and zesty dressing. The recipe says to boil the asparagus, but we say grill it alongside the salmon and then chop it to take in all the charred flavors!

Enjoy this hot or cold, any day of the week!

Get the Recipe: Hungry Healthy Happy

Shrimp and Crab Pasta Salad

Two images: The left image is of shrimp and crab pasta salad, and the right image is of the separate ingredients used in the meal.
Healthy Fitness Meals

Plain Greek yogurt, old bay seasoning, and lemon juice work flawlessly together in this cold summer delight! Add in crab meat, cooked shrimp herbs, and pasta, and you’ll thank us later! Serve this alongside a tomato sandwich or enjoy it on its own.

Get the Recipe: Healthy Fitness Meals

Bacon and Ranch Pasta Salad

A large glass bowl filled with bacon ranch pasta salad.
Barefeet in the Kitchen

Bacon and ranch make a happy pair for many, so why not use the flavor-packed ingredients in a cold pasta salad! Cherry tomatoes, peas, and shredded cheddar all accompany the meal so perfectly!

Feel free to serve this one with chicken tenders or hot dogs at your next summer cookout.

Get the Recipe: Barefeet in the Kitchen

Pasta salad should be light, yet filling, and flavorful, but not overpowering. Any of these recipes will fit the bill, and you’re sure to get rave reviews! If you love pasta but are worried about the carbs, experiment with these keto-friendly versions.

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »
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