What could be better than colorful corkscrew pasta tossed with salami, cheese, olives, vegetables and a garlic, herb and lemon vinaigrette? Not a lot. This is quite possibly the best pasta salad you will ever eat. And it’s damn pretty to look at too.
Pasta salad is ideal for all types of gatherings, from weekday lunches to casual picnics and elegant bridal showers. Indoors or out, it’s always a welcome addition to the table. But have you noticed that some pasta salads are significantly better than others?
A disappointing pasta salad can be bland or too salty, a mess of greasy noodles and mediocre vegetables. But, with a few tips and tricks, you’ll be able to make the perfect pasta salad every time.
What’s the secret to making the perfect pasta salad?
Two keys to a great pasta salad are finding the right ratio of dressing to noodles and creating the right balance of toppings.
First of all, the dressing must be fabulous. Rather than a quick pairing of olive oil and vinegar, create a dressing that’s flavorful enough to stand on its own with tangy, sweet, and aromatic undertones.
In the recipe that follows, I’ve shared my go-to dressing for pasta salad, a lemon-based dressing that contains honey, Dijon, garlic, and herbs in proportions that work exceptionally well with buttery ingredients. and salted salad.
Second, don’t skimp on the dressing. I ask for ¾ cup of dressing for twelve ounces of pasta, which may seem like a lot, but the noodles soak up every drop.
Finally, when it comes to additions, the pasta takes precedence over the intense flavors of two types of cheese, salami, peppers, red onion, tomatoes, black olives, parsley and basil.
The result is colorful, chunky, salty, buttery, sweet and downright amazing.
Basic pasta salad recipe
To make Italian pasta salad, cook pasta according to package directions. Spread it out on a baking sheet to cool for 15 minutes. While the pasta is cooling, prepare the dressing and remaining ingredients. Mix everything together, season with salt and black pepper and serve. That’s it!
How much pasta should I use in a pasta salad?
The classic pasta salad is made with rotini or spiral pasta, a shape that holds up very well to dressing.
When shopping, you’ll find that regular rotinis are typically sold in 16-ounce packages, while many others, including tricolors, gluten-free, and those made with brown rice, chickpeas, or yellow peas, are sold in 12 ounce packages.
Since the preponderance of spiral pasta is sold in 12 ounce packages, that’s what my recipe calls for.
If you choose a 16-ounce package, the ingredient list doesn’t change and you’ll probably still have enough dressing and you can always add a little more olive oil and lemon juice to taste.
What are the best cheeses to use in a pasta salad?
My pasta salad includes two types of cheese: fresh, creamy mozzarella and salty parmesan.
For the mozzarella, you can use mozzarella pearls or you can cube a block of fresh mozzarella.
Is fresh mozzarella worth it? :Absolutely. Here are the recipes to prove it
If you want to use regular mozzarella (whole or part-skim milk) instead of fresh, that’s okay, but processed mozzarella isn’t as creamy or buttery as fresh varieties.
For parmesan, freshly grated is preferable, as its flavor is nuttier and more robust. That said, if you already have some pre-grated parmesan on hand, this will work just fine.
Easy pasta salad substitutes
It’s easy to customize this Italian pasta salad to suit your needs.
If you want to skip the salami or substitute the pepperoni or ham, do so.
For a vegan salad, skip the meat and cheese and add more vegetables.
For a gluten-free salad, just use gluten-free pasta.
Recipe: Perfect Pasta Salad
This salad is great for entertaining because it’s easy to double or triple to serve a crowd and it’s easy to make. You can make pasta salad up to two days in advance (day two is best). Simply store the salad in an airtight container in the fridge.
Makes: 12 cups
- 12 ounces spiral, regular, gluten-free, or tricolor pasta (see note above)
- 2 cups seeded and chopped bell peppers, any color, or about 10 chopped mini bell peppers
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, either mozzarella pearls or a block of fresh mozzarella, cubed
- 6 ounces hard salami, such as Genoa, Felino, or Sopressata, cut into bite-size pieces, you can also use pepperoni or ham
- 10 ounces (about 1 cup) grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
- ½ cup sliced black olives
- ⅓ cup finely chopped red onion
- ¼ cup grated parmesan, preferably freshly grated
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
- ¼ cup chopped fresh basil (if using dried basil, add 1/2 tsp to dressing)
For the Italian dressing:
- ½ cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon of honey
- 1 tsp minced fresh garlic or 1/2 tsp minced dried garlic
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ tsp dried basil (if not using fresh)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Crushed red pepper flakes, for serving, optional
- Cook pasta according to package directions in salted water. Drain, reserving ½ cup pasta cooking water.
- Transfer the pasta to a large baking sheet and let cool for 15 minutes.
- To make the dressing, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, honey, garlic, oregano and basil (if using dried). Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
- Transfer the cooled pasta to a large bowl and add the peppers, mozzarella, salami, tomatoes, black olives, red onion, Parmesan, parsley and basil (if using fresh).
- Add 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta cooking water to the dressing and whisk to combine. Add dressing to pasta mixture and toss to coat. If desired, add more pasta cooking water to the salad. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
- Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve (up to 2 days).