Why pasta salad is a staple in my house (and probably should be in yours too)

September 19 | Guest post by Anie
warm pasta salad © by jdavis, used under Creative Commons license.
This summer I have been eating a lot of pasta salad. I make a huge batch of it at the beginning of the week. Then, any time I'm hungry, it's just a matter of plopping some in a bowl. It's particularly great for eating while I'm running around the kitchen trying to find something for my (increasingly picky) son to eat. Or to feed to my son while I'm running around trying to do laundry and dishes. Or just to munch on in front of the computer when I really don't want to put any effort into feeding myself.

There are three main reasons why I love pasta salad and have made it such a staple in our home…

It's easy
Other than the pasta itself, there is no cooking involved. Cook pasta, chop veggies, crumble cheese, add oil and vinegar, and mix. So simple. Sure, chopping up all the veggies can take time, but since I make it in large batches that just means finding some time over the weekend or during naptime, and then having a no hassle lunch all week.

It's versatile
There's no real recipe for pasta salad because there's no real wrong way to make it. My favorite pasta salad involves artichokes, feta, sundried tomatoes, kalamata olives, and red peppers. My partner's mother makes hers with broccoli, onions, diced peppers, and black olives. My most recent batch contained micro tomatoes, feta cheese, zucchini, yellow squash, basil leaves, and red peppers. The point is, you can put almost anything in it. This is especially useful if you have a vegetable garden. Sometimes you find yourself holding a small handful of cherry tomatoes and a zucchini and thinking "What the heck am I supposed to make with this?" Or maybe you like to shop at your neighborhood farmer's market. The super fresh produce all looks so good that you buy one of everything and then you get home wondering what you're supposed to do with just one of everything. The answer my friends, is chop, slice, and throw in pasta!

It's healthy
Okay, if you're used to the pasta salad you get at the deli section of the grocery store you might argue with this one, but just hear me out. Yes, that pasta salad is mostly oil and empty carbs with the occasional olive thrown in for variety. However, there is no reason for your pasta salad to be so limited. First off, choose the right pasta. I personally like to go half and half with Barilla Plus and Ronzoni's Garden Delight. Sure, with all the veggies I'm adding, the latter might be a little redundant, but it's so yummy! There's no real way to make pasta not carb-y, but those carbs don't have to be empty.

Next, choose your dressing carefully. You could probably get an Italian that makes the whole process a little easier, but I prefer to just add olive oil, vinegars (yes plural — I prefer to use a mix of red wine, white wine, and balsamic) and seasoning until it all tastes right. Since I prefer things on the vinegary side, this means a lot less oil (and fat!) than anything store bought. I also throw in either a dash of lemon juice, or lemon pepper for that added umph!

Also, as mentioned above, it's a great way to use local, in season vegetables. These are going to be packed with a lot more nutrients than anything that was picked early and ripened in transit or that's been sitting in a jar or can (as much as I love my artichokes and sundried tomatoes).

So the next time you're trying to think of what you can make now that will last you a few days, or what you could do with the small handful of veggies in your produce drawer, think pasta salad! This is the perfect time of year for it, so be sure to take full advantage.

Now that Anie has me craving pasta… what are you FAVORITE pasta recipes. Serve 'em up!

  1. We have been putting chopped sweet basil in ours, as well as whatever spices & veggies we like. My favorite involves artichokes, capers, heart of palm roasted garlic, avocado and olives, but not everyone likes that. A little parmesan goes a long way too.

    0 agree
  2. I make mine with cucumber, tomato, avocado, sweet corn, olives and tuna.

    1 agrees
  3. I do almost the same thing, but warm! Cook up a bunch of pasta (I also like Garden Delight), lightly stir-fry whatever veggies are on hand, add seasoning/garlic/onion/hot sauce/oil/vinegar, and YUM. White beans are a good addition for protein, and I bet chickpeas or quinoa would be too.

    If I have precooked pasta in the fridge, it takes all of 5 minutes. A perfect way to use up leftover random veggies, and I can incorporate some frozen stuff if the fridge is bare. Simple and adaptable!

    1 agrees
    • I imagine I'll be doing more warm versions as we hit the fall veggies. Roots and guards just don't feel like cold veggies to me, though maybe they could be.

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  4. I'll happily eat almost any pasta and sauce dish cold, skanky little git that I am. I love goats' cheese with pasta salad though.

    In addition to adding to pasta salads, most excess root vegetables can also be grated/shredded (not sure of my terminology here) and flung into almost any baked goods; you can't taste them and they make the finished product last twice as long.

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    • I love that eating pasta and sauce cold makes you qualify yourself as a "skanky little git". Aren't you being a bit hard on yourself?! :D

      It made me laugh anyhow. Thank you for brightening my Thursday.

      2 agree
  5. One thing I learned from my mom is don't mix the dressing into the big container of pasta salad. This keeps it fresher for longer and prevents bacteria and other gross things from growing on the veggies. Just scoop some salad into your salad bowl, drizzle with your dressing, and mix! Also allows people to customize the amount of dressing to their personal preference.

    2 agree
    • Depends on your dressing. Since mine is mostly vinegar, it actually reduces the likelihood of mold and bacteria.

      1 agrees
    • I dunno, my mother always taught me that pasta salad is better the second day, when everything's good and marinated. The dressing even thickens up a bit with the pasta starch. My dressing is also mostly vinegar and oil.

      3 agree
  6. Could you post your approximate ratio of these ingredients? I'm cooking-stupid and need halp. :D

    2 agree
    • I guess it really depends on how many veggies you want. My pasta/veggie dishes usually end up containing nearly the same amount of veggies as pasta. You can make the pasta first and then just add veggies until it looks right to you.

      If you have extra chopped veggies left over after this, you can put them in a separate container and use them later in a salad, as a side dish, or with another batch of pasta.

      0 agree
    • One box of pasta or half a box of each pasta I mentioned above. One small yellow squash, one small zucchini. Half a pint of cherry tomatoes. One 4oz package of feta.

      When it comes to ratios, the trick is to make sure that all of the veggies are basically 1:1:1. As for the veggie to pasta ratio, Amy is right. Total amount of veggies ~= total amount of pasta, maybe a bit less.

      Grab a soup or serving spoon, stick it in your pasta salad, and pull it up. Can you see every ingredient you put in represented in that spoon? If yes, then you're good. If no, add more of whatever is missing.

      0 agree
  7. tuna, pickled red peppers, diced onion and mayo. drooling on the keyboard.

    1 agrees
  8. Peas my off-beat friends! Assuming you like them, add peas to all your pasta salad recipes–they add a lovely sweet flavor. :-)

    7 agree
  9. I'm so glad I'm not the only one who likes vinegary. My husband never ate my salad dressing because instead of 1/3 vinegar 2/3 oil ratio I used 3/4 vinegar and 1/4 oil and he said it smelled like a pickle factory. Hopefully he'll like the variety

    2 agree
    • For salads I eventually just stopped using oil all together. Red wine vinegar and fresh ground pepper will do for me.

      2 agree
  10. Make it with quinoa pasta, and BAM – complete protein + lots of nutrients!

    2 agree
  11. I like making Thai-style noodle salad with rice noodles, peanuts, cilantro, peppers, shredded veggies and a TON of hot sauce (sriracha goes on basically everything I make)! For dressing I usually just mix soy sauce with lime juice and a little oil.

    5 agree
  12. My new fav pasta recipe is puttanesca pasta. I got the recipe from thepioneerwoman.com but make it without the anchovies.

    0 agree
    • I love pasta puttanesca! So salty and delicious…I'm one of those weirdoes who loves anchovies though, so they always end up in my puttanesca sauce.

      1 agrees
  13. Our pasta salad is usually red bell pepper, cucumber, mozzarella, olives, salami and maybe broccoli with italian dressing. It's stupid good. We also sniped a recipe from a local coffee place that serves a tortelloni salad with a white wine vinegar dressing, with just broccoli and red peppers.

    1 agrees
  14. I like swapping the pasta out for couscous! I saute some onions and garlic in a little olive oil, chop up some zucchini and squash (and whatever other vegetable I want to add) and throw them into the pan of sauteing yumminess. While that's sauteing, I put the couscous into the boiling water, stir it a bit, wait, and then mix everything together! Sometimes I'll add some crushed red pepper or some other spice that smells good to me that day to the veggies while they're sauteing.

    1 agrees
    • Yessss. This. I basically ate variations of this recipe all last winter. My favourite was couscous mixed with cooked raisins, carrots, chicken, and herbes de provence. Sometimes I'd add purple cabbage. It was always so pretty!

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      • I may have to try your version! It sounds great!

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  15. Ermagerd. This is exactly what I have been needing! I'm so bad with the lunch-making I usually just end up eating toast. Lots of toast. Totally going to try this next week!

    1 agrees
  16. I must be the only person ever who dislikes pasta salad.

    3 agree
  17. I do the same thing with quinoa salads! I cook large batches of quinoa with whatever is starting to take over my herb garden and chop up any extra veggies from my produce junction run, olive oil and vinegar and finished! Quinoa is a protein rich grain so it works for a snack or a meal. yum

    0 agree
  18. I hate pasta salad. My mom always made it with a mayonnaise-y dressing, which I detested. And I've tried other versions that are more oily/vinegary, and I dislike that too. Not sure what it is about it – I love pasta itself with all different kinds of sauces, and I love veggies. But every variation of pasta salad I've ever tried was just nasty to me.

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    • I would try making it yourself, without any sauce/oil/vinegar at first, and then adding in whatever you think tastes good. While I CRAVE pasta salad several times throughout the year, I really dislike most of the ones you can get without making it yourself. Even other people's homemade ones. But! Maybe you just don't like pasta salad. :)

      1 agrees
  19. Tuna, onion, cheddar, green onions if you have them, maybe some tomatoes, and I occasionally put in chopped dill pickles or pickle relish. Season with pepper and add either a little oil and a lot of vinegar or some mayonnaise. But of course all veggies are delicious in it, and any spices such as dill or something. OMG I <3 pasta salad and it's so wonderfully versatile, I will have to try all these recipes!

    0 agree
  20. I love pasta salads! I love lots of vinegar on it too. I usually use whatever veggies I have on hand, but my favorite is cherry tomatoes, red onion, sugar snap peas, and avocado. The avocado makes it nice and creamy – yum! The type (shape) of pasta you use is also important – I find that penne works best.

    0 agree
  21. OMG so hungry now.
    I do a Greek-inflected pasta salad that's just bomb: orzo pasta, chopped tomato, scallion, kalamatas, fresh parsley, cucumber, feta, and a lemon/oil vinaigrette. I love it because it has my 3 pasta salad staples: 1) lemon, 2) fresh herbs, and 3) SALT. Gots to have my salted pasta and salty cheese, yo.

    0 agree
  22. Thank you thank you thank you! I'm in the first trimester of pregnancy, and last time one of the things that got me through was noodles with tomato cucumber sesame seeds and itallian dressing. Now that I am thinking about it as pasta salad there are so many possibilities and such great ones listed here!

    0 agree
  23. So, thanks to this article, I totally started craving pasta salad. I ended up going to the grocery store while on vacation at my dad's house and getting stuff to make some. Here's what I came up with: Tri-colored rotini, cucumber, a mix of kalamata and green olives, cherry tomatoes and Feta cheese. My dressing was 1/2 c olive oil + 1/4 c white wine vinegar + 1/4 c balsamic vinegar.

    All in all, it was pretty incredible, especially given that I was pretty much making that shit up up on the spot. Especially the dressing proportions. I had no idea what the hell I was doing. :)

    0 agree
  24. I know im coming in on this a bit late but i had to share how i do it!
    Whenever we have a BBQ or ploughmans lunch thing i do pasta salad the easiest way ever… Different coloured peppers, very finely chopped red onion and green pesto, voila, Rainbow pasta salad! Can add olives/cherry tomatos/mozzarella etc. Also, sweet potato, peppers, cougette and onions roasted with cous cous and spices in lush for a cous cous salad… Dont know if you guys have ready seasoned couscous? in the uk we have 'ainsley harriot' ones….

    0 agree

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