There’s no time of year that we’d really ever turn down pasta salad. But we certainly lean on it the most in the summer, when we need travel-friendly dishes to bring to picnics or refreshingly cold food to eat from the fridge.
When asked about their favorite pasta salad recipes, several Eater staffers replied that they don’t tend to use one. This is another upside of pasta salad, of course: It’s an easy catch-all for staple ingredients like pickles and other briny things, cheese, charcuterie, and whatever fresh herbs or crunchy vegetables are on hand. To go no-recipe with pasta salad, it’s all about creating a balance of salty, sour, fresh, and cured elements, while remembering to season more aggressively since the cold fridge mutes flavors.
That being said, we have a few favorite pasta salad recipes that we return to all season. Follow these recipes exactly, or consider them your starting points for even more pasta salad experimentation. Long live pasta salad summer!
Kendra Vaculin, Bon Appétit
Pasta salad is one of those foods where you can dump most things in your pantry and still make something edible. But that’s what I loved about this broken lasagna pasta salad from Bon Appétit, which was a hit amongst my friends when I brought it to a barbecue recently. When making lasagna, one typically opts for the most pristine noodles, and those random shards at the bottom of the box usually get cast to the side. This recipe makes use of them, though it would be equally as good with another pasta shape. It has a nice mix of herbaceous notes from the parsley and basil, crunch from the cabbage and almonds, as well as a slight sweetness from the combo of maple syrup and nutritional yeast. — Emma Orlow, Reporter at Eater New York
Hailee Catalano, Cafe Hailee
I first made this recipe because a friend couldn’t stop gushing about it to me, and now I can’t stop gushing about it to everyone else. Pasta salad is all about texture, and this one hits every note you want with crunchy peppers and snap peas, tender marinated artichokes and olives, and chewy mozzarella balls. With the spice of good olive oil and bright hits of fennel, dill, and vinegar, the whole dish adds up to tasting like an Italian market smells (this is a good thing). — Jaya Saxena, Correspondent at Eater.com
Molly Baz, Bon Appétit
I don’t tend to get terribly excited about pasta salad, so I surprised myself when I ended up happily going back for seconds when this one showed up at a friend’s barbecue. It has the right balance of salt, crunch, and zip, without being gloopy. The peppers step is the biggest commitment, but it’s reasonably hands-off; I’d probably toast my nuts in a skillet to avoid turning the oven on during the summer. This recipe is pretty versatile — just use whatever nuts you have on hand, and the world won’t end if you can’t find the Fresno chiles that Bon App seems to love including in every recipe. — Missy Frederick, Cities Director
Sheldon Simeon, Food & Wine
Macaroni salad is in its own niche in the pasta salad genre, generally gloopier and much more mayo-heavy than most. But to my mind, it is the ideal pasta salad, perfect for eating on hot summer days while you daydream about that time you went to Hawaii. I have not yet managed to fully recreate the tangy, creamy mac salad I ate at practically every meal on a recent trip to Oahu, but chef Sheldon Simeon’s recipe for the Hawaiian staple is the closest I’ve ever come.
And while it is tempting to try to skimp on the eye-popping amount of mayonnaise in this recipe, it is all absolutely essential to achieving the right texture. Though Simeon’s recipe doesn’t call for it, I like to grate half of a yellow onion into the dressing to cut through the richness. Make it at least a few hours in advance, stirring a couple times as it sits in the fridge to ensure that each noodle is thoroughly coated in the dressing, and serve alongside grilled huli-huli chicken and steamed rice for an at-home plate lunch that’s the next best thing to actually being on the island. — Amy McCarthy, Staff Writer at Eater.com
Alison Roman, A Newsletter
Too many bland bowls of tricolor rotini soured me on pasta salad earlier in life. Luckily, those days are over, thanks to the flavorful renditions that have since entered my life. This one from Alison Roman is a standout. It’s briny with capers, sharp with pickled onions, intensely savory with tomatoes two ways plus aged cheese, and so good that over the course of one week this summer, I made it three separate times.
This time of year, all I want to eat is tomatoes. As good as they are raw, a variation from that flavor is nice. This salad offers another way to fulfill my summer tomato craving, but with an interesting oomph of flavor from the addition of sun dried tomatoes. I, for one, am nostalgic about their heyday. — Bettina Makalintal, Senior Reporter at Eater.com