You've heard us say it again and again: always cook pasta in a large amount of well-salted boiling water until al dente. But when it comes to pasta salads that will be served cold or room temperature, we've actually started taking a slightly different approach.
For pasta destined for a picnic salad, we like to do two things:
1. Cook it in even more heavily salted water.
2. Cook it just a little beyond al dente.
When cooking pasta for salad, we usually double the amount of salt we normally put in the pasta water, adding roughly 4 tablespoons of salt for 4 quarts of water. We know this sounds excessive, but food actually tastes different when eaten cold than it does when hot. The flavor of a dish that was perfectly seasoned right off the stove becomes muted. For this reason, we like to be extra sure that pasta for a cool pasta salad gets well-seasoned while it cooks.
We also cook it just beyond al dente so that the pasta stays soft when it cools. Have you ever noticed how leftover pasta gets a little hard and chewy when it cools? That's fine if we're going to be reheating it in another dish later on, but not if we're planning on eating it cold.
You don't need (or want!) to cook it to mush, though. Just at the point when you would normally take your pasta off, let it cook for just an extra minute. Then run the drained pasta under cool water to stop the cooking.
And here's a bonus tip: dress the pasta salad while the pasta is still a little warm. The dressing will coat the pasta better!
(Image: Emma Christensen for the Kitchn)