Why I’ll Never Use Penne to Make Pasta Salad Again

published May 26, 2024
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Penne pasta with hummus, olives, feta, and red pepper in a pot
Credit: Joe Lingeman

I have fond memories of Indiana summers. It wasn’t just the neighborly greetings — if you grew up in the Midwest, you probably spent a greater part of your summers at community cookouts, neighborhood pool parties, and the “Oscars” of all summer soirées: graduation parties. Midwestern hospitality, you see, really blossoms in the summertime.

In fact, it was at one of these graduation parties — our first after moving to America — that my mom was introduced to one of my favorite foods: pasta salad. 

Shortly after, she set out to make her own, opting for penne at first, which we usually had on hand for baked zitis and other weeknight casseroles. It was … fine (sigh), a little underwhelming if I’m being truly honest, and far-too-often overcooked. 

I met a world of pasta salads as I attended more of these graduation parties — ones slathered in ranch, covered in pesto, or slicked with a classic vinaigrette. No matter the dressing or the mix-ins, I very quickly realized that farfalle, those adorable little bow ties, is the only shape worthy of a pasta salad. 

Credit: Lavanya Narayanan

1. Farfalle won’t fall apart on you (or your pasta salad).

Our household swears by Barilla for all our dry pastas — and not just because it was the most affordable and readily available when I was growing up. To this day, I find this farfalle really does have a nice bite and, upon cooling, retains its structure without disintegrating, unlike some other brands (or shapes). I rarely ever see a rampant strip of farfalle floating around in the pot as it boils — have you? 

The same, sadly, can’t be said for penne. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve scooped a generous spoonful of penne pasta salad onto my plate and found more than one noodle has fallen apart. It’s just not as sturdy as farfalle, and can’t hold its own in something like pasta salad where there are often no fewer than eight ingredients.

Credit: Kelli Foster

2. The bow-tie shape is so much more striking.

I know looks aren’t everything, but I can also admit I very much eat with my eyes first. When I look at a bowl of farfalle pasta salad, my heart smiles: The bow tie shape! The frilly edges! What a showstopper! No other pasta can stand up to a bowl filled with an eye-catching rainbow of fresh vegetables the way these stylish little bow ties do. 

3. Beyond just looks, farfalle is built for a more flavorful bite.

Pasta salad, like many great dishes, is about balance — at least, for me. Farfalle is a relatively flat noodle, which makes it easy to build a stackable bite of dressed veggies, cheese, and, yes, pasta. The tubular or corkscrew shapes just end up hogging much of my fork, leaving me with a mouthful of somewhat sauced noodles. Plus, the way a vinaigrette pools in the farfalle’s ribbon-like pleats makes those bites that much more satisfying.

When we’re not making our go-to pasta salad with Kraft Italian Vinaigrette (and some Colby Jack cubes) at home, I love to mix room-temperature farfalle and all my vegetables with a dollop of chilled pesto from the fridge. The minced garlic and fine Parmesan crumbs nestle into those ridges beautifully. It just feels … right, in a way that penne doesn’t.

Buy: Barilla Farfalle, $2.09 for 16 ounces at Instacart

What’s your go-to pasta for pasta salads? Tell us about it in the comments below.