How to Make a Pasta Salad That Wows at Potlucks and Summer Parties
You might think of pasta salad as picnic padding, but nobody will put these recipes in the corner of the table. Our test kitchen team has tested techniques and developed these three recipes that are sure to satisfy pasta salad fans and win over those who haven't been fans up until now.
What we've learned is that short, curly noodles are ideal for pasta salad. They leave room for other ingredients in every forkful, but the grooves beautifully hold the dressing and herbs. Be sure to boil them for the longest duration listed on the package, since they won't continue to cook in piping-hot sauce as they would in warm dishes. Then keep the noodles springy by scattering them on a sheet pan to cool. Bring additional flavor to your pasta salad with a powerful dressing; we like a zingy lemon vinaigrette but we also offer an option tossed in a combination of mayo and a zesty dressing. Don't forget that every pasta salad needs some crunch (think chopped celery or fennel or green beans), and though pasta salad can be made ahead, don't serve it cold from the refrigerator as that makes it too firm and less flavorful. Bring it to room temp by taking it out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before serving.
Below we detail how to make our protein-packed Pasta Salad with Tomatoes, Mozzarella, and Chickpeas. Try it first, then give our two other bright, herby versions a go. They're sure to be the recipes you bring to potlucks and picnics all summer long.
Make the Dressing
Using the side of a chef's knife, mash garlic with one teaspoon of salt into a paste. Transfer to a small bowl; whisk in lemon juice, vinegar, oregano, and oil. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. In a fine-mesh sieve, toss tomatoes with one teaspoon salt; let stand 15 minutes to drain.
Prep the Pasta
Cook pasta in generously salted water according to package directions until cooked all the way through. Drain (but don't rinse, which would waterlog the noodles), then spread on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with half of vinaigrette. Let cool completely, about 20 minutes.
Mix and Marinate
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, toss fennel, capers and brine, chickpeas, mozzarella, and salted tomatoes with remaining vinaigrette. Add pasta; toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate up to a day ahead; let stand at room temperature at least 30 minutes before serving. Toss with Parmigiano-Reggiano and parsley; serve.
Pasta Salad with Chickpeas, Green Beans, and Basil
For a pasta salad with mayo, try our Pasta Salad with Chickpeas, Green Beans, and Basil. The technique is basically the same as the tomato and mozzarella pasta salad, but we use farfalle in place of gemelli and replace the fennel and tomatoes with three cups of sliced, blanched green beans and 1/2 cup chopped red onion (for less bite, soak it in cold water for 10 minutes, then drain). A can of chickpeas is the star of this recipe, rather than mozzarella. Replace the oil in vinaigrette with 1/2 cup mayonnaise, and toss salad in all of dressing in step three. Then use fresh basil leaves instead of parsley.
Orecchiette, Celery, and Olive Salad with Ricotta Salata
In this lively pasta salad, orecchiette serve as little bowls for salty, soft cheese, crunchy celery, and briny olives. To make Orecchiette, Celery, and Olive Salad with Ricotta Salata swap orecchiette for the gemelli, replace the tomatoes with two cups of chopped celery, and swap out the capers and brine for 1/2 cup pitted and sliced Castelvetrano olives and one to two tablespoons olive brine. Use crumbled ricotta salata in place of mozzarella. Toss with chopped celery leaves instead of parsley.