This list has all of the BEST pasta salad recipes to make this summer. Quick and easy ideas that are perfect for busy weeknight dinners, BBQs and family gatherings!
Table of Contents
Salads with Pasta
A cold pasta salad is my absolute favorite recipe to bring to a BBQ in the summer. Not only are they delicious, but also quick, easy and can usually be prepared ahead of time. They’re always a big hit with the crowd and are usually the first side dish to go.
Another great thing about making a pasta salad is that it’s the perfect way to use up your fresh vegetables and herbs from the garden. Fresh tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, basil and dill are a few of my favorites. They add so much flavor and really take the salad up a notch.
This list has some incredible pasta salad recipes, including some that are creamy, healthy, vegetarian and just plain delicious. Most are made in 30 minutes or less and are easy to customize based on what you have on hand. Dive in and ENJOY!
Best Pasta to Use
There are different types of pasta to use depending on which recipe you make. For example, you’ll want to use elbow noodles when making a creamy macaroni salad. However in most recipes, the pasta can be easily interchanged and will still taste equally as delicious.
Most recipes call for one of the varieties below. Their unique shape and ridges hold the sauce nicely, enhancing the flavor of the dish. Whichever kind you use, just make sure to cook the pasta until al dente. It should be tender, but sturdy enough to hold it’s shape, this tip is equally as true when making pasta dinner ideas.
- Bow tie
Some may argue that the dressing is the best part of a pasta salad. It helps make the dish more cohesive and is a great way to add flavor and texture. Whether it’s a creamy dressing like ranch or a lighter vinaigrette, I do recommend making the dressing from scratch if you have the time. It’s an easy way to take the dish from ordinary to extraordinary. Trust me!
- Salt your pasta water. This is an easy way to add more flavor to your dish. You don’t need a lot, just a small sprinkle.
- Use a large bowl. When you toss the ingredients together, the bowl should be large enough that they aren’t overflowing out of the bowl. This may sound simple, but it makes a big difference and is way less messy.
- Extra dressing. When preparing the dressing, I usually make a little extra (especially if I’m making the recipe in advance). The pasta will soak up some of the dressing as it chills in the fridge, so it’s always a good idea to make extra so that it stays moist and delicious.
- Protein. Although some pasta salad recipes contain meat, there are many that don’t. But that doesn’t mean you can’t add it in! Feel free to mix in some diced grilled chicken to bulk it up a little. Or add some chickpeas for a vegetarian source of protein.
- Let chill. In order for the flavors to marinate together, let the salad chill in the fridge for at least an hour (unless the recipe says otherwise). The dish will have a stronger flavor this way.
A few common mistakes to avoid include overcooking or undercooking your pasta, not using the right shape of pasta, not salting your pasta water while cooking, not tossing the pasta with at least 2/3 of the dressing while warm and making your pasta salad too far in advance.
Yes! It not only stops the cooking process but rinses away the starch on the pasta which can lead to clumping.
Yes! For the same reasons your rinse your pasta, using cold water will help stop the cooking process and rinse off the starch.
Cold pasta salad will have more muted taste than a warm pasta dish. Seasoning it extra and not skipping salted water while cooking your pasta can help add more flavor for the best pasta salad.
Pasta Salad Ideas
You can’t go wrong with any of the recipes below. I’ve made each of these dishes a handful of times and the end result is always incredibly delicious!
Best Pasta Salad Recipes
- 1 (1-pound) box tri-color rotini pasta
- 1 red bell pepper , chopped
- 1 green bell pepper , chopped
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes , sliced in half
- ½ sliced red onion
- 1 cup sliced olives
- 8 ounces small mozzarella balls
- 1 cup Italian dressing or vinaigrette , more if desired
- 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (parsley or basil)
- Shredded parmesan cheese , optional
Optional add-ins: Chickpeas, Snap peas, Chopped salami or pepperoni
- Cook pasta according to package. Drain and rinse under cold water.
- In a large bowl, stir together cooked pasta, bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, olives, and mozzarella balls.
- Pour Italian dressing over the top and sprinkle with fresh herbs. Cover and chill at least 2 hours. Top with parmesan cheese, if desired, before serving.
Nutrition provided is an estimate. It will vary based on specific ingredients used.
Did you make this recipe? Don’t forget to give it a star rating below!