In my opinion, gatherings like barbecues, picnics, and summer cookouts aren't complete without a few things: grilled meats, coleslaw, potato salad, and pasta salad. There's something about these foods that just go together perfectly, especially when paired with a cold beer or cocktail. Of course you can enjoy these things all year long, but I think they taste so much better during the summer!
While there are so many ways to prepare pasta salad, it's more than just tossing some cooked pasta in a bowl with salad dressing. Here are a few helpful tricks:
- Go for a pasta shape that has nooks and crannies so the dressing can sink in. Pasta shapes like fusilli, farfalle, rotelle (wagon wheels), shells, and penne work really well.
- Make sure the water you cook the pasta in is flavored with plenty of salt.
- Cook pasta until just al dente. You don't want to over cook the pasta because it will continue to soften and absorb moisture once it sits in the refrigerator.
- Pasta salad is a great make ahead side dish because it needs time to marinate in the refrigerator so all the flavors can blend together.
Check out some of our favorite pasta salad recipes below.
1. Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad
If you're a fan of chicken Caesar salad, you'll love the addition of pasta in this recipe. Penne pasta, chicken (rotisserie chicken works), croutons, bacon, lettuce, and shredded Parmesan cheese are all generously tossed in a garlicky homemade Caesar dressing. If you don't have time to make the dressing, there are some great store bought Caesar dressings that work just fine.
2. Caprese Pasta Salad
Caprese salad has so many delicious flavors going on, so this take on caprese pasta salad is sure to be a hit. Bow tie pasta, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella are all tossed in pesto, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil for this hearty side dish.
Helpful tip: make sure to rinse the cooked pasta under cold water before adding in the mozzarella cheese so it doesn't melt and turn gooey.
3. Rainbow Antipasto Pasta Salad
This is my favorite way to enjoy pasta salad because there's something for everyone in it. Filled with cheese, salami, and veggies like: black olives, artichoke hearts, red onion, roasted red peppers, cherry tomatoes, and kale, you really can't go wrong! Here's the recipe.
4. Asian Pasta Salad
This pasta salad is full of fresh flavor and an easy recipe to make for a crowd. You can use long noodles for this, but like mentioned before, rotini is a perfect shape for this so the dressing soaks in.
5. Greek Pasta Salad
This recipe is filled with refreshing, Mediterranean flavors like: grape tomatoes, Kalamata olives, feta cheese, and cucumbers and tossed in a simple red wine vinegar based dressing.
6. BLT Macaroni Salad
This creamy pasta salad has all the necessary components found in a BLT, with the addition of corkscrew pasta. It's crunchy, flavorful, and all brought together with the tangy dressing.
7. Buffalo Chicken Pasta Salad
I'm always a huge fan of buffalo chicken dip at parties, so this buffalo chicken pasta salad is one you have to try out. You won't miss out on that kick of heat either!
8. Tortellini Pasta Salad with Tomatoes, Basil, and Corn
Colorful and fresh, this tortellini pasta salad has a ton of summer flavors all in one bowl! Try and use fresh corn for this recipe for the best flavor however, frozen corn works as well.
9. Arugula Pasta Salad
This healthy side dish replaces regular pasta for whole wheat pasta if you're looking for ways to get more whole grains into your diet. The nutty flavor from the pasta is perfect with the fresh arugula, sun-dried tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and artichoke hearts. This is also a great recipe to serve warm.
10. Chicken and Berry Pasta Salad
Adding strawberries and blackberries to pasta salad might be a little unexpected, but there's a possibility it could be your summer go-to dish!