The Best Pasta for Pasta Salads

Ingredient Intelligence

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Does the kind or shape of pasta really matter for pasta salad? In theory, you can make pasta salad with any kind of pasta that you want, but here are a couple of things to think about so that you make the best choice possible.

Choose Dried, Not Fresh Pasta

While fresh pasta is delicious, its more delicate nature means that it isn't a great choice for pasta salads. Dried pasta is cheaper, easy to always have around, and will hold up much better when it's tossed with the dressing and other ingredients and served cold or at room temperature.

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Pasta Shape and Size Matters

The size of the pasta you choose matters, especially if you'll be serving it at a casual gathering where people might not necessarily be eating at a table. Short pasta like farfalle or fusilli means that it's easier to serve and easier to eat — no twirling or long noodles sliding around!

The pasta you choose should have nooks and crannies to trap in the salad dressing, herbs, and other flavorings. For an especially strongly-flavored, thick dressing like pesto, tubed pastas like penne or macaroni are great choices that have a lot of surface area to grab in flavor.

Tips for Cooking the Pasta

Once you've made your pasta choice, remember these three tips on cooking pasta for pasta salad:

  1. Cook it in extra-salty water. Serving food cold tends to mute its flavors, so you want to make sure your pasta is well-seasoned as it cooks.
  2. Cook the pasta a little past al dente. Since you're not cooking it in sauce and serving it warm, cook the pasta a minute longer than you normally would, but don't let it get mushy. Pasta gets hard and chewy as it cools, so this extra cooking time will keep it moist.
  3. Dress the pasta while it's still warm. If you toss the pasta with the dressing while it's still a little warm, it'll absorb the dressing better and be more flavorful.

(Image credits: Faith Durand; Jiri Hera/Shutterstock)