This Small but Brilliant Tip Makes Pasta Salad So Much Better

updated Jun 20, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

Pasta salad is a great make-ahead side dish. You can prep all of the ingredients in advance, toss them with dressing, and enjoy it all throughout the week. But the problem with pasta salad is that it tends to get drier and less flavorful as the days go by. The pasta absorbs the dressing, the salad looses its shine, and the flavors get muted. Sure, it still tastes good, but it’s not nearly as vibrant as the first day you make it. Luckily, there’s a simple workaround that ensures your pasta salad remains as bright and bold as the first day you made it. The solve? Dressing your pasta salad twice. Here’s how to do it.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Dressing Your Pasta Salad Twice

The secret to making delicious pasta salad in advance is to dress it twice. The first time should be when the pasta is still warm so it can easily absorb the dressing. Only add about half of the amount of dressing you usually would and think of it as a marinade. The pasta, vegetables, and cheeses get time to absorb the dressing and take on additional flavor. They absorb the seasoning from the dressing, ensuring every bite is as flavorful as possible.

The second time you dress it should be right before you serve the salad. Think of this as your final dressing step, adding moisture, shine, and an additional layer of flavor. At this point the pasta salad will have absorbed all of the dressing from the first time you dressed it, so it desperately needs more. This prevents it from being dry and flavorless and gives it a big, bold flavor — making it taste as fresh as the first day you made it. It might seem like a waste of time to dress it twice, but it’s truly worth the extra effort. Trust me.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

A Few More Tips for Making Pasta Salad In Advance

In addition to dressing your salad twice, here are a few more tips you should keep in mind when preparing pasta salad ahead of time.

1. Leave out the leafy greens. If your recipe calls for adding fresh greens such as arugula or spinach, wait until the last minute to add them. (Or avoid these recipes altogether if meal prepping is your main goal.)

2. Avoid recipes that call for soft cheeses — or swap them out. Delicate cheese like chévre and feta have a tendency or get soggy and fall apart when dressed, so avoid using them if you plan to prep your salad in advance. Most hard cheeses are much better options and will stay fresh for several days.

3. Check for seasoning. After you toss your pasta salad in dressing for the second time, make sure to check it for seasoning to see if it needs additional salt. The flavors tend to change and mature as it ages, so don’t be surprised if it needs more.

Ready to get cooking? Here are some of our favorite pasta salad recipes.