Kitchn Love Letters

One Year Later, I’m Still Making This Pasta Salad Weekly

published Jul 24, 2019
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

At Kitchn, our editors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. And we decided to start sharing some of our absolute favorites with you. Here’s a peek into what we’re cooking and eating in our own kitchens.

When it’s too hot to cook, I find myself making big batches of pasta salad weekly, then digging into it every single day. A good pasta salad combines tender noodles with a piquant dressing, crisp vegetables, and a creamy cheese or a sharp olive or pickle. The very best pasta salads can be adapted to whatever is in your crisper drawer (or maybe what you overbought at the Saturday market) so that you, too, can make the same pasta salad every week throughout July and August and never get bored.

Credit: Meghan Splawn

Last summer, I had the pleasure of trying out a bunch of new pasta salad recipes for this very website, and one of them — our Easiest Pasta Salad — has since become the only one I make. Lately, my family has subsisted on it — I change out a few ingredients but always stick to the same basic dressing and never-fail ratio of pasta to other ingredients. Here’s why (and how) we’re eating this pasta salad every week from now until September.

Credit: Meghan Splawn

3 Smart Tips for the Best-Ever Pasta Salad

Mayo-based salads have never been my thing, so last summer I set out to create the easiest, no-mayo pasta salad I could muster. Through a lot of trial and error, I learned a few tricks for making a better pasta salad, and landed on the best-ever combination of Italian-inspired ingredients.

The first thing I learned was that soaking the red onions in red wine vinegar creates a two-for-one flavor booster. The onions soften in texture and infuse the vinegar (which is used to make the dressing) with flavor, all in the time in takes to boil the pasta.

My second learning surprised me, because it goes against everything I thought I knew about cooking pasta. Right after cooking, you’ll dunk the pasta in a bath of ice cold water to stop the cooking process, which helps the pasta salad last in the fridge all week. Contrary to pasta-cooking lore, it doesn’t prevent the pasta from soaking up the dressing or the flavor from the vegetables.

This last bit is probably the easiest, but keeping a ratio of 50:50 pasta to everything else makes for the tastiest pasta salad and makes it more of a complete meal. You’ll want to slice or chop all of the ingredients to roughly the same size of whatever pasta you use, too, which will allow you to more easily pick up every tasty morsel in each bite. And remember — you don’t have to stick to the exact vegetables, cheese, olives, and herbs called for in the original recipe.

Credit: Meghan Splawn

This Pasta Salad Is Endlessly Adaptable

I never get tired of this pasta salad because I always switch up the ingredients. Sure, a red onion (or shallot) and halved cherry tomatoes are regular players, but we often swap the mozzarella and pepperoni for feta and artichokes for a Greek-inspired take (in that case, I also use oregano instead of parsley and add some lemon zest). Recently, my daughter asked for a chicken bacon ranch version (pictured above, inspired by these dinner packets) and we used steamed broccoli and cheddar instead of cucumbers and mozzarella. Then, we swapped the Italian seasoning in the dressing for this DIY ranch and happily ate the double batch for lunches and dinners the following week.

The true magic of this recipe is that it gets better as it sit in the fridge, or when it makes its way from our home kitchen to a lunch box by the pool. This pasta salad always seems to taste its very best on the last serving, prompting me to bring a pot of water to a boil immediately so I can start the whole process — soaking the onions, pulling scraps from the fridge, and tasting it all standing near the AC vent — all over again.