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How to Make a Pasta Salad That Wows at Potlucks and Summer Parties

Master this popular summer side dish with our test kitchen team's smart technique and a trio of tasty recipes.

Associate Editor
Pasta Salad with Tomatoes, Mozzarella, and Chickpeas
Photography by: Ren Fuller

You might think of pasta salad as picnic padding, but nobody will put our Italian remix in a corner. Keep the noodles springy by scattering them on a sheet pan to cool, and power up the flavor with a zingy lemon vinaigrette. Then toss in some crunch, and place this beauty front and center on the table. After you've made our Pasta Salad With Tomatoes, Mozzarella, and Chickpeas, try our two other bright, herby versions—one with mayo and one without. They're sure to be the recipes you bring to potlucks and picnics all summer long.

 

A good tip: Short, curly noodles are perfetto for pasta salad. They leave room for other ingredients in every forkful, and the grooves 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.

 

Related: Martha's Favorite Picnic Recipes

garlic mashed for dressing on cutting board with knife
Photography by: Ren Fuller

Make the Dressing

Using the side of a chef's knife, mash garlic with 1 teaspoon 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 1 teaspoon salt; let stand 15 minutes to drain.

 

Related: Our Favorite Summer Slaw Recipes

baking sheet of pasta noodles
Photography by: Ren Fuller

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.

 

pasta salad ingredients in white bowl
Photography by: Ren Fuller

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. (Cold pasta salad is too firm and less flavorful.) Toss with Parmigiano-Reggiano and parsley; serve.

 

Get the Pasta Salad with Tomatoes, Mozzarella, and Chickpeas Recipe


Sprightly Swaps

There's nothing bland about these two other combinations. They're packed with herbs and crisp vegetables.

Pasta Salad with Green Beans and Basil
Photography by: Ren Fuller

Pasta Salad with Chickpeas, Green Beans, and Basil

Replace gemelli with farfalle, and fennel and salted tomatoes with 3 cups sliced blanched green beans and 1/2 cup chopped red onion (for less bite, soak it in cold water for 10 minutes, then drain). Replace oil in vinaigrette with 1/2 cup mayonnaise, and toss salad in all of dressing in step 3. Use fresh basil leaves instead of parsley, and omit mozzarella.

 

Get the Pasta Salad with Green Beans and Basil Recipe

Orecchiette, Celery, and Olive Salad
Photography by: Ren Fuller

Orecchiette, Celery, and Olive Salad with Ricotta Salata

Use orecchiette instead of gemelli. Replace salted tomatoes with 2 cups chopped celery, and swap out capers and brine for 1/2 cup pitted and sliced Castelvetrano olives and 1 to 2 tablespoons olive brine. Use crumbled ricotta salata in place of mozzarella. Toss with chopped celery leaves instead of parsley.

 

Get the Orecchiette, Celery, and Olive Salad with Ricotta Salata Recipe