It’s hard to think of a time when a pasta salad doesn’t round out a warm weather meal perfectly. It can also be the main course, holding center stage in all of its colorful glory, and if you make a vegetarian pasta salad, it can serve as the entrée for some, and a side dish for others. If I am making a pasta dinner, I often cook extra pasta so that I have a jump on a pasta salad later in the week. This cuts down on time when you’re ready to make your pasta salad. It also might save you from turning on the stove if the other ingredients in the salad are uncooked or precooked.
I often make pasta salads to clean out the fridge, especially when I have a mishmash of ingredients on hand that on their own wouldn’t make much of a meal. Leftover cooked vegetables, half a zucchini, part of a pint of cherry tomatoes, extra roasted or grilled chicken, chopped onions or a handful of sugar snap peas that never got used in a stir fry. Into the cooled pasta they go.
Pasta Salad Dressing
As for a dressing, you can stick with a very simple olive oil or mayo-based dressing, or you can use some leftover vinaigrette, maybe softened with a few extra glugs of olive oil. Or maybe make a pasta salad dressing that showcases all those leftover herbs we end up with during the warmer months. I made a pasta salad with leftover ranch dressing the other day that was nothing short of divine.
Also note that your pasta salads will become even more flavorful if you add some of the dressing to the pasta while it’s still a bit warm. The warm pasta will absorb the dressing better than cooled pasta. And then, once you’ve tossed the dressed pasta with the other ingredients, add in the rest of the dressing to coat everything evenly.
So, while you can ad-lib your own pasta salad any day of the week, sometimes you want to aim for something in particular. Here are great pasta salad recipes for the pondering.
17 Cold Pasta Salad Recipes
Summery, colorful, delicious. And it couldn't be easier to make – some leftover rotisserie chicken would be a smart shortcut. Perfect for entertaining, packing for an office lunch, picnics, you name it.
This is a great example for how a main course can be repurposed into a robust pasta salad later in the week. Summery, colorful, delicious. Perfect for entertaining, packing for an office lunch, picnics, you name it.
If you like Caesar Salad, and you also like pasta salad this is your lucky day. This Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad is the best of both worlds. I know it might seem odd to have lettuce in a pasta salad, but really why not? I often eat salad and pasta on the same fork – now it's sanctioned!
You can make this ahead of time, up to 1 day. In a perfect world it’s best to leave the arugula, spinach and basil out, and add them right before serving. Adding the greens at the last minute keeps them from getting wilted and darkening. Also add the tomatoes right before serving so they don't start to get mealy in the fridge.
I love orzo salads, which are the perfect way to round out any summer menu. In this version, colorful, barely wilted spinach adds nutrition and freshness to the pasta. The feta is optional, but without it you have a vegan salad, so you might think about offering crumbled feta on the side so those who wish to add it to their salads can sprinkle it over their portions.
Substantial, colorful, festive, this Tortellini Pasta Salad is perfect for a summer lunch, and a great addition to buffets, potlucks, picnics and more.
Taking the time to cook your pasta perfectly is the key to perfect macaroni salad. Do not undercook your pasta. This is not the place for al dente pasta. Cooking your pasta thoroughly will ensure that ideal creamy texture. This is a very straightforward macaroni salad, but you'll see that you can simplify it even further. Offer to bring this to the next cookout!
I made herbed mayonnaise to use all summer long. I love it in sandwiches, and it forms the base of the best pasta salad dressing. If you've made the mayo, this salad is halfway done! Skip the bacon in this recipe and you'll have a vegetarian dish.
You can cook the orzo and shrimp and corn a day or two ahead of time (oh, and yes, you can also buy pre-cooked shrimp). You can make the dressing up to three days ahead of time and keep it in the fridge. Make sure to add the avocado right before serving so it stays pretty and bright green.
When ramps are in season I try and find lots of ways to use them. These spicy, oniony wild leeks spark up a pasta salad with loads of flavor. This has a substantial ratio of chicken to pasta, which means more protein and more interest. Poached chicken is easy to make, but you can use grilled or roasted chicken, whatever you have, whatever you like, and just shred that up. And there is always rotisserie chicken! I love this for potlucks.
Another rampy pasta salad, this one with salmon. You could use shrimp instead, or if you want the simplest vegetarian side, leave out the protein.
It's all about the fresh herbs in this one! Mix and match whatever you have. A great way to use up leftover herbs in a new way. This really goes with everything.
We love Greek salad in all of its guises, here turned into a pasta salad. My older son can eat half of the bowl in one sitting, and then look forward to it again for lunch the next day.
This entire salad can come together in less than minutes. While the water comes to a boil, trim and slice the sugar snap peas and asparagus. Add the orzo to the boiling water, then add the vegetables to the orzo for the last couple of minutes of cooking time. Drain and rinse everything together in cold water to stop the cooking. This also locks in the green color of the vegetables. And while the pasta cooks, make the very simple dressing. Toss it all together, and done!
I love keeping a little container of pureed chipotles.in adobo in the fridge to add interest to all kinds of recipes, from soups to stews to pasta salads like this one. This "secret ingredient" add a Southwestern/Mexican flair to recipes, and brings some smoky heat.
Cilantro lovers, this one's for you! You can try other proteins in place of the salmon, like shrimp or even lightly cooked bay scallops.
At the end of the summer, there is no better pasta salad to fall back on. Get fresh mozzarella, make sure your tomatoes are at their ripest, and this pasta salad can be a main course or the perfect side for barbecues, picnics, or just a light lunch at your desk.
More Summer Recipes to Try: