Perfect Pasta Salad (That's Not Tasteless!)

Summer Survival Guide

perfect pasta salad

My kids will eat any kind of pasta I make them -- except pasta salad. Which is a real bummer because it's the perfect picnic or on-the-go meal.

My homemade creation is either tool oily and tasteless, or, on the other extreme, too vinegary. I just can't get the combination of flavors, ingredients and textures right.

In my search for a fresh, light, and savory salad recipe that my kids and guests will actually eat, I dug up this article from on what to do and not to do for the best pasta salad.

Some of the biggest mistakes people make? Adding too many different types of veggies and ingredients (three or four are enough), not letting it sit and chill long enough for all the flavors to meld (3-4 hours), and failing to sprinkle enough salt to taste:

More perfect pasta tips:

  • Start with dried noodles, prepared al dente. Avoid tortellini, which are horrible chewy nuggets served cold. After draining, toss the noodles with olive oil, lay them in a single layer on a sheet pan, and cool them in the fridge.
  • Pasta salad should be oily, not vinegary -- what happens when you douse them in salad dressing like at most delis. Stick with fragrant olive oil plus rich ingredients like oil-cured olives, homemade pesto, and lemon juice instead of vinegar.
  • Avoid balsamic vinegar, which darkens the noodles and makes them very unappealing, and butter, which congeals when chilled.
  • Use a sturdy noodle in a small shape, like orzo, penne, orecchiette, rotellini, or farfalle. Elbow macaroni is a loser because it gets too floppy.
  • Mayonnaise is not a good idea. Just think of all those partially touched bowls at past barbecues. Ranch dressing is a mayonnaise substitute and should therefore not be used, either.
  • Avoid lots of crudités like red peppers, broccoli, and carrot shreds, which add very little other than color. Vegetables are great in pasta salads, but on the whole, they should be cooked or at least blanched or roasted. (Possible exceptions: finely diced red onions, slivered scallions, and cherry tomatoes.)
  • Tender herbs like chives, dill, mint, basil, cilantro, and Italian parsley are the magic ingredients in a good pasta salad—use a little more than you think you need, and add them close to serving time. Never use dried herbs.
  • Another secret ingredient: a light, tangy cheese like feta, manouri, fresh chèvre, or ricotta salata, which give an acidic balance to the salad without the pucker of vinegar.

rkoloms posted a really good pasta salad recipe she came across -- check it out the Recipes Group.

What's your secret to the perfect pasta salad? Any other good recipes to share?

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