6 Pasta Salad Secrets

Pasta does not always mean a big hot plate of spaghetti and meatballs. Cold pasta salads are handy, not only for picnics and packing in a cooler, but can come in handy most any time of day or night if kept stashed in the fridge. Although pasta salad can come in a plethora of different shapes, sizes and tastes… the main ingredient of pasta should be done properly in order to provide the base for whatever evolves from that point.

Here are six secrets, or pro tips, to aid in making a perfect pasta salad.

how to cook pasta

6 Pasta Salad Secrets

Pasta Salad Secrets

1) Cook the pasta only until al dente.
There should be instructions for this on the box of pasta, but basically it is a minute or two less cooking time than the recommended time for pasta fully cooked and ready to eat immediately. If the pasta is completely soft when cooked, then the resulting salad will become mushy because the dressing soaks into and further softens the pasta as it sits. (BTW: Don’t add any oil to the water when cooking or the pasta be slick and unable to absorb dressing.)

2) Rinsing matters!
After draining the pasta, make a concentrated effort as to whether or not you rinse the macaroni. Simply draining the pasta without rinsing and then allowing the pasta to cool in the dressing will result in a more flavorful pasta salad. Rinsing the pasta cools it quickly and provides a silkier texture, which means that less dressing will be absorbed into the pasta.

3) Pasta salads are great made the day before their planned use.
Although most pasta salads will keep for longer than a day, peak quality and flavor are generally enjoyed on the day after preparation. This makes them an ideal fix and forget choice to serve at a picnic or a party. Most oil based pasta salads should be brought to room temperature for 30 minutes before serving, whereas mayonnaise based pasta salads are good to go straight from the fridge.

4) Garnishes should be added just before serving.
Tender herbs will moisten and shrink if added before refrigeration, so place them on when serving. Make the salad flavor pop even more when serving by adding a sprinkle of flaky sea salt. Since, as noted earlier, some dressing will seep into the pasta as it sits add a drizzle of olive oil to the top just before serving to add a little more moisture to a drying salad.

5) Add the freshest local produce possible to your pasta for both texture and flavor.
Crisp fresh veggies shine in a pasta salad. Save the aging veggies for soups and broths.

6) Improvise!
Recipes are not really necessary when creating pasta salads. Think of big flavor ingredients to toss into the salad like zesty vinegar, salty cheese and briny olives. Choose brightly colored vegetables and interesting shapes. Don’t forget easy proteins like beans, canned meats and eggs to make a complete one dish meal sure to beat the lingering summer heat.
how to cook pasta

6 Pasta Salad Secrets

Additional Info

For help with actually cooking the pasta, see our how to cook pasta post.

To find out how long different salads and pasta salads last, see our salad page.

If you’re wondering how long pasta lasts, see our pasta page for detailed shelf life information.

To find out how long other foods are good for, please visit the Dairy, Drinks, Fruits, Grains, Proteins, Vegetables and Other sections of Eat By Date or use the search function below.

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