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Pasta salad

Since I"ve wised up to Chowhound, I first did a search for "pasta salad" recipes. Found nothing! So I'm asking all you wise hounds to please tell me how to make a reasonable pasta salad. My kids love it, and it's an easy summer dish. But despite my usual skill in the kitchen, mine always ends up being boring. What should I do differently?

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    1. re: ipsedixit

      Don't know what I'm doing wrong, but thanks for helping me out!

    2. I didn't look at the search items listed, but I think the best thing to perk up a pasta salad is to be sure not to use too much mayo and to add some dill pickle juice to loosen things up, even if you don't put dill pickles in your salad. I use chopped onion, celery, and red bell pepper, pitted kalamata olives, halved, lots of chopped parsley (curly type for texture), sometimes a chopped jalapeno pepper, sometimes chopped cucumber, whatever is around, even chopped raw zucchini.

      1. Do you want mayo based or vinaigrette
        Seafood or chicken or veggie based
        Cold I presume ...

        This narrows it down, do the kids like lots of veggie or just more of a traditional version?

        1 Reply
        1. re: kchurchill5

          This might be a little too different (i.e. non-pasta-salady), but check out Pioneer Woman's Asian Noodle Salad:
          I've made it with variations (cutting it way down and using penne and leaving out some of the ingredients) and every time people have clamored for the recipe. Just be forewarned, if you are not feeding an army definitely reduce the amounts.

        2. I love traditional pasta with a light mayo base, but I love roasted veggies and I love shrimp in mine, that is why I asked what type of pasta you were looking for. A huge arena of tastes.

          1. I've given up on basic pasta salad. Either its boring or way over dressed.

            But my absolutely most successful recipe that many of my friends insist I bring to their parties is an orzo salad, which is in fact a pasta salad. Its an epicurious recipe: Orzo, Pine Nut, and Feta Salad http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

            The key with this recipe -- which may also work for other pasta salads -- is to drain the orzo and mix in the EVO/lemon mixture right away while the orzo is still piping hot so the EVO goodness suffuses into the orzo. That way the orzo (or pasta) is no longer boring. It helps that the toasted pine nuts, feta, and green onion give it plenty of kick too. But the recipe falls apart if the orzo is cooled before adding the oil.

            5 Replies
              1. re: somervilleoldtimer

                Quinoa is another good option for summer salads. It cooks quickly, is high in protein and it's gluten-free!

              2. re: BernalKC

                I add black olives and sundried tomatoes to this recipe and the olive oil from the tomatoes works well in place of adding olive oil immediately to the orzo.

                1. re: BernalKC

                  I feel like a broken record, but this orzo pasta salad is great as well. It also has pine nuts and feta.


                  1. re: BernalKC

                    Picked up some lovely scallops with the intention of making Orzo pasta salad with grilled scallops. That's dinner, thanks for the inspiration BernalKC!

                  2. Hummus is good with either warm or cold pasta. Red bell peppers add color, flavor and nutrients.

                    1. Try this: Teriyaki Pasta Salad: Marinate cut-up cooked chicken in soy sauce and garlic powder. Toss with cooked drained rotini, canned pineapple chunks, some cashew nuts, and a dash of hot red pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning with more soy sauce and garlic powder.

                      1. We enjoy pasta salad done without mayo. I actually can't stand elbow macaroni-style with mayo and pickles, etc-
                        I'll use any other cut macaroni- baby bow ties, tri-color rotini, even cheese tortellini (a favorite) and cut cherry tomatoes, maybe some roasted red peppers, minced celery, other chopped veg that needs to get used up, crumbled feta or other cheese - and make an olive oil & vinegar dressing.
                        Since we almost always have leftovers, this kind also keeps better.

                        1. Greek Pasta
                          I make what I call "Roasted Greek Pasta." It is a combo of black olives, roasted artichokes, roasted red peppers, scallions, lots of fresh parsley, roasted tomatoes, roasted red onion and roasted mushrooms, and a lemon and oregano vinaigrette topped with crumbled feta. I like fussilli for this

                          Green Pasta
                          I like small penne or something similar for this, baby peas, blanched asparagus and green beans, lemon zest and a creamy dill dressing makes for a light summer dish

                          Layered Pasta Salad
                          This is a twist off the good ol' layered salad. I use bowtie pasta tossed is a creamy garlic vinaigrette and layered with lots of veggies. Tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, peppers, onion and of your favorites and cheese. Layers just like the 7 layer salad. A layer of pasta, then do alternating layers of vegetables and pasta I keep some of the dressing I used on the pasta for the top layer and drizzle some over the top. Top with fresh croutons crunched up and serve. It looks pretty keeps well and it is fun to serve.

                          Pesto Pasta
                          I love tossing a light basil pasta with elbows, some olives, tomatoes and fresh mozz, maybe some red onion, easy and light.

                          1. My (and loved ones) favorite:
                            Cook 12 oz. any pasta WITHOUT SALT until al dente
                            Add 3 tb. each lemon juice and Cavender's Greek Seasoning, and olive oil
                            Mix well and chill.
                            Add: 1 bunch chopped scallions, I can sliced black olives, 1 jar chopped pimento (drained), 1 jar marinated artichokes (with or w/o juice) chopped. Toss with salad. Add mayo to taste, mixing well. Correct seasoning and/or add cooked chicken, shrimp, or whatever suits your fancy (also cheese, feta good). Cover and chill. So good.

                            1. Small shells for this pasta. Shrimp marinated in lemon, dill, olive oil and steamed, fresh arugula and basil, lemon zest, tomatoes, avacado and scallions plus the creamy dill dressing.
                              Dressing: 1/4 cup buttermilk, 1 cup mayo, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 2 tablespoons dijon, dill to taste, 1-2 teaspoons lemon juice. Toss and serve

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: kchurchill5

                                Mmmm. I like the idea of dill. And shrimp. Do you chop the arugula?

                                1. re: somervilleoldtimer

                                  If you use the baby arugula, most of the stems are so small I just do one rough chop or just even just pull apart a bit. But usually so small you don't even have to.

                                  You can pan saute or even grill the shrimp or grill, either or. I have done all.
                                  Some fresh torn basil or just a light toss, grape tomatoes cut in half, fresh avacado cubed and scallions white and green. Just a simple toss. It is light easy tasting, nothing too heavy.

                                  Please feel free to sub olives for tomatoes if you want which is very good or even a little thin sliced shallot or small onion. I have even used fresh roasted asparagus cut in 1" segments which work really good with this.

                              2. Sometimes the best solution is the simplest. Just throw pasta, veggies, cheese, pepperoni..whatever and toss with Italian dressing and Salad Supreme by McCormick. It's a classic.

                                1. the thing i hate about pasta salads is they get soggy. i also think glopping mayo onto pasta is just gross. when i was a kid everybody used elbows, and it was "macaroni salad". i don't care what you call it. the veggies weep and the pasta turns to mush. italian pastas are not supposed to be served cold. ever.

                                  i do make asian noodle salads but use buckwheat soba noodles, which are meant to be rinsed in cold water before they get dressed. so i cook very al dente in salty water, rinse in lots of cold water and lay it out on a towel and pat it dry -- otherwise the dressing will just slip off and not adhere to the noodles. then add sesame oil, lime juice, chopped thai basil, chilis, etc. i recently did a sort of greek version with these noodles, with olive oil, feta, olives, mint and grape tomatoes which was terrific.

                                  i also make orzo salad which gets raves. cook al dente. drain. DO NOT RINSE. lay it all out flat on a towel to cool. when it's cool enough to touch, then dress with olive oil, lots and lots of fresh squeezed citrus (either lemon or orange) fresh parsley and mint, toasted chopped almonds or pine nuts, calamta olives, etc. the orzo is small, so don't garbage up the salad with big pieces of anything like pepperoni. i like these things clean and simple and they go great with grilled meats or as part of a mezze type meal.

                                  if they don't get finished, i do store these in the fridge for lunch the next day, but when i first make them, i don't refrigerate -- just keep at room temp til i serve it. if it's too cold, the flavors get dulled.

                                  10 Replies
                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                    Mine uses very little mayo and it serves to bind it. Besides, it's never lasted over one night in the fridge. People don't even usually know there's mayo in it.

                                    1. re: bayoucook

                                      i was merely stating my experience and my preference. i don't know what "cavender's greek seasoning" is, and don't care for canned olives or jarred pimentos, so i don't know that yours would float my boat, honestly. sorry. i'm glad your family enjoys it!

                                      so many of the recipes in this thread sound like kitchen sink salads, and that kind of thing holds zero appeal for me. just me.


                                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                                        no offense taken - it's just hard to find un-canned olives and fresh pimentoes around here - ;< )

                                        1. re: bayoucook

                                          I use a descent canned olive and it is fine for a pasta salad.

                                          If the olive was the star of the dish then I will get fresh olives but otherwise a good jarred or canned is just fine for me. Pimentos are just fine in a jar for me. I don't use them that often.

                                          1. re: kchurchill5

                                            (thanks for the back-up) - it's just the kind of pasta salad it is - a pantry-driven one, I guess - I could leave the olives out, but I'd really miss 'em!

                                            1. re: bayoucook

                                              Kitchen sink pasta is fine and most people love it. I do like simpler ones without or with mayo but I do enjoy throwing all the veggies in and making a dish and it always goes over well. Now for a more "upscale ... fancier" party, I would make something unique but I enjoy them all.

                                              1. re: kchurchill5

                                                I've fancied that pasta salad up with crabmeat, shrimp, sun-dried tomatoes and feta. I don't know if I've ever made it the same way twice.

                                                1. re: bayoucook

                                                  Just like me, but somehow, it is always good isn't it. No matter what.

                                                2. re: kchurchill5

                                                  kc-- you tend to like lots of "stuff" in your dishes. i do not, nor do the folks i have over. i don't like my table or my plates to be world war three. a few carefully chosen quality ingredients in a dish, rather than a cacophony, is my preference. obviously, ymmv. frequently i'm staggered by the volume of flavors in your recipes.

                                                  i don't see how a simpler dish equates "fancier" in your book. more isn't always better.

                                                  1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                    I like both types of salads. I probably prefer the one with more items vs a simpler pasta. But the term fancier I meant as a description for a party that is a little bit more than a pot luck BBQ or Bugers and dogs with family.

                                                    For those types of parties I try to fine a unique dish or those usually with fewer ingredients so it compliments the other dishes I have planned. But I have found most of my friends love pasta with everything. And it is always a hit at BBQ's or potlucks.

                                    2. My simple all-from-Trader Joe's shrimp pasta salad:

                                      1 lb medium (51-70 size) frozen cooked shrimp
                                      2 packages of the small fresh cheese tortellini (it's best if the shrimp and the tortellini are about the same size)
                                      1 tub of bruschetta sauce (the fresh sauce in the deli section)

                                      Cook the pasta, thaw and rinse the shrimp, toss shrimp and pasta with the sauce (I usually puree half of it to make it more "dressingish" and reserve a little to add just before serving if the pasta has absorbed too much and made it dry). Refrigerate for an hour or two to let the flavors meld. Makes a great entree salad for a summer brunch or light supper and is popular at potlucks.

                                      This is also a great summer salad, it keeps really well -- you could make it as-is, or substitute orzo pasta for the rice, and you could of course add some grilled chicken, cooked shrimp or other protein. I never use their vinaigrette, either -- just whatever I have made up or bottled or a my own favorite vinaigrette. Note that this recipe makes a *huge* amount (I know, it says eight portions, but that must be eight as an entree salad, because it starts with eight cups of cooked rice). I always cut it in half.


                                      1. Make a basic lemon vinaigrette using about 1/4 cup vinegar, 1/2 cup olive oil, fresh garlic and fresh lemon. Cook a box of orzo. Dress the orzo with the vinaigrette, as much or as little as you like then add in whatever you like. Diced tomatoes are good, diced spring onions, snow peas, colorful peppers, peas, chopped basil or spinach, or whatever you like.