Pass the Pasta Salad

If you're tired of your favorite pasta salad recipe, jazz it up by following these simple guidelines.

Choose the Right Shape:

Avoid pasta of varying thickness (like bowties)--it cooks unevenly and turns out both overcooked and undercooked at the same time.

Select a pasta with grooves that will catch the sauce. Orecchiette, conchiglie, gemelli and cavatappi are some of our favorites.

Start with dried pasta (not fresh), prepared al dente. After draining, pat dry and place on a chilled baking sheet to cool quickly.

Dress to Impress:

A common dressing mistake is making the dressing too acidic. Steer away from very vinegar-heavy recipes because the strong flavor will overshadow all of your star ingredients. When making a pasta salad, go for something a little more on the subtle side.

Using a mixture of half olive oil and half mayo gives the creaminess of the mayo while introducing the freshness and fullness of an olive oil-based dressing. Add a little vinegar for sharpness. Dressing the pasta before you add mix-ins will ensure that all the pasta gets evenly coated.

Mix in More Flavor:

A good pasta salad has mix-ins that add flavor, salt and spice. Use your mix-ins to create a distinct flavor profile for your salad. Mix-ins for a Mexican profile could include ingredients like black beans, pickled jalapenos and cotija cheese. Mix-ins for a BBQ profile could include shredded BBQ chicken, cilantro and cubed cheese. For a Greek profile, we like cucumber, feta and olives.  

Finish with a Bang:

Finishing is a crucial step in making the perfect pasta salad. Serve in a shallow dish to evenly distribute garnishes so that each bite gets a taste. Add fresh herbs and crunchy toppings to the top directly before serving. Chives, dill, mint, basil, cilantro and Italian parsley are great pasta salad staples. Take it easy on stronger herbs like rosemary, tarragon or oregano.