Is there a more quintessential summer side dish than pasta salad? This cool salad keeps well for picnics and potlucks, you can make a big batch to eat for no-cook lunches throughout the week, and just about everyone from your kids to your mother-in-law will eat it!
Pasta salad is truly as easy as boiling water and tossing in a few key ingredients. Just stick to this simple formula, cool the pasta correctly, and lean on this flavorful dressing every time you need to whip one up. Here's the one pasta salad recipe you need this summer.
Easiest Pasta Salad: Watch the Video
The Ultimate Easy Pasta Salad
There are a lot of pasta salads out there, but here's why you should memorize this one: The dressing is easily made from things already in your pantry (and totally tastes like your favorite bottled Italian dressing). Plus, there's no mayo to worry about sitting out at a picnic or potluck.
This recipe is based on a formula that you can easily adapt to your favorite mix-ins. Don't like olives? Add sun-dried tomatoes. Use feta instead of mozzarella. My favorite thing, though? From start-to-finish, this whole recipe only takes 30 minutes to pull together. It's perfect for last-minute get togethers or for a quick lunch to eat throughout the week.
A Simple Pasta Salad Formula You Can Memorize
Here's an easy way to make sure that your pasta salad feels robust rather than skimpy on the mix-ins: For every 8 ounces of dried pasta, plan on about 1 pound of mix-ins, with at least half of that being cheese, meat, or other savory mix-ins. Remember that the pasta will plump as it cooks, and you want pasta salad to have a generous combination of pasta and vegetables in each bite. Dress this amount of pasta and add-ins with about 3/4 cup of dressing.
Key Steps to Pasta Salad
- Marinate red onions in the dressing. We're going to avoid adding raw red onions straight in this salad, mainly because their bite can steal the show in a bad way. A simple way to combat this is to mix up the dressing first and add the diced red onions to the dressing before you do anything else. The red onions will add flavor to the dressing, but they will also mellow out and become sort of like a quick-pickle while soaking into the vinaigrette.
- All add-ins should be roughly the same size. Cucumbers, tomatoes, and even mozzarella should be chopped in some way before making their way into the salad, because the goal is to make this salad as easy to eat as it is to make.
- Shock the pasta. Unlike potato salad, which loves to be dressed warm, pasta will soak up all the dressing and become dry and gummy if you toss it with the dressing while warm. But also you don't want to wait around while the pasta cools and potentially sticks to itself. The simple solution? After draining, dunk the strainer of pasta in an ice bath (equal parts ice and water in a large bowl) and get it cold fast!
- Mix and chill before serving. Pasta salad get better as it rests, so for the best pasta salad, all you have to do is mix and chill the salad for at least 30 minutes. It's why pasta salad is even better the next day.
Serving and Storing Pasta Salad
As pasta salad chills, it can taste a little less flavorful (cold dulls our sense of taste just a tad), so be sure to taste the salad and season again just before serving. Pasta salad keeps well in the fridge for about five days, so it can easily be made in advance.
How To Make the Easiest Pasta Salad
Serves 6 to 8
What You Need
- For the dressing:
red wine vinegar
dried Italian seasoning
freshly ground black pepper
- For the pasta salad:
medium red onion, finely chopped
dried short pasta, such as rotini
cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
English cucumber, quartered lengthwise, then thinly sliced crosswise
mini mozzarella balls, drained and halved
salami slices, cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips
pitted kalamata olives, halved
coarsely chopped fresh parsley leaves
Measuring cups and spoons
Chef's knife and cutting board
Large and small bowls
Make the dressing. Place all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine.
Soften the red onion in the dressing. Add the finely chopped red onion and stir to combine. Set aside to soften while you prepare the rest of the salad.
Cook the pasta. Bring 2 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente — soft with just a bit of chew — about 8 minutes or according to package directions. Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath in a large bowl.
Quickly cool the pasta. Drain the pasta in a colander and run under cold water. Dunk the colander in the ice bath and set aside to cool for 5 minutes.
Place the pasta salad ingredients in a bowl. Drain the pasta well. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the tomatoes, cucumber, mozzarella, salami, olives, and parsley.
Toss the pasta with the dressing. Add the dressing, including the onions, to the pasta and toss until evenly combined.
Chill for 30 minutes before serving. Refrigerate the pasta salad for at least 30 minutes for the flavors to meld before serving.
Storage: This pasta salad keeps well in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Taste and season again before serving if needed.