What could be better than colorful corkscrew pasta with salami, cheese, olives, vegetables, and a garlicky, spicy lemon dressing? Few. This may be the best pasta salad you will ever eat. And it’s damn beautiful to look at too.
Pasta salad is great for gatherings, from weekday lunches to casual picnics and elegant bachelorette parties. Indoors and out, it is always a welcome addition to the table. But have you noticed that some pasta salads are better than others?
A disappointing pasta salad can be bland or too salty, a mess of greasy noodles and mediocre vegetables. But with a few tips and tricks, you can make a flawless pasta salad every time.
What’s the secret to making a perfect pasta salad?
Two keys to a great pasta salad are finding the right dressing ratio to noodles and creating the right balance of additions.
First, the dress has to be fantastic. Instead of a quick combination of olive oil and vinegar, you create a sauce that is flavorful enough to stand on its own with spicy, sweet, and aromatic nuances.
In the following recipe, I’ve shared my ideal pasta salad dressing, a lemon-based vinaigrette with honey, Dijon, garlic, and herbs in proportions that pair exceptionally well with the buttery and salty ingredients in the salad.
Second, don’t skimp on the dressing. I ask for ¾ cup of dressing for twelve ounces of pasta, which may seem like a lot, but the noodles soak up every drop.
Finally, when it comes to the additions, the pasta takes a backseat to the intense flavors of cheese, salami, bell pepper, red onion, tomatoes, black olives, parsley, and basil.
The result is colorful, chunky, salty, buttery, sweet, and downright stunning.
The basic recipe for pasta salad
To make Italian pasta salad, cook the pasta according to the package directions. Spread it out on a baking sheet to cool for 15 minutes. While the pasta is cooling, prepare the dressing and remaining ingredients. That is it! Stir everything together, season with Salt and black pepper, and serve.
How much pasta should I use in pasta salad?
Classic pasta salad is made with rotini or spiral pasta, a shape that holds the dressing well.
While shopping, you’ll notice that regular rotini is usually sold in 16-ounce packages. In contrast, many others, including tricolor, gluten-free, and those made with brown rice, chickpeas, or yellow peas, are sold in 12-ounce containers.
Since the predominance of spiral pasta is sold in 12-ounce packages, that’s what my recipe calls for.
If you choose a 16-ounce package, the ingredient list won’t change, and you’ll likely have plenty of dressing left over and can always add a little more olive oil and lemon juice to taste.
What are the best cheeses to use in pasta salad?
My pasta salad contains two types of cheese: creamy fresh mozzarella and salty Parmesan.
For the mozzarella, you can use mozzarella pearls, or you can cut a block of fresh mozzarella into cubes.
Is fresh mozzarella worth the hype?: Absolutely. Here are the recipes to prove it
If you want to use regular mozzarella (whole milk or semi-skimmed) instead of fresh, that’s okay, but processed mozzarella isn’t as creamy or buttery as the new varieties.
For the Parmesan cheese, freshly grated is preferred, as the taste is more nutty and robust. That said, it will work fine if you already have pre-grated Parmesan on hand.
Easy pasta salad replacement
This Italian pasta salad is easy to adapt to your wishes.
Do so if you want to omit the salami or substitute pepperoni or ham.
For a vegan salad, skip the meat and cheese and add more vegetables.
For a gluten-free salad, use gluten-free pasta.
Recipe: Perfect Pasta Salad
This salad is great for entertaining as it’s easy to double or triple to serve a crowd and is friendly to prepare. You can make pasta salad two days in advance (better the second day). Store the salad in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Makes: 12 cups
12 ounces spiralized pasta, regular, gluten-free, or tricolor (see the note above) 2 cups seeded and chopped bell peppers, any color, or about ten chopped sweet mini peppers 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, either mozzarella pearls or a block of fresh mozzarella, diced6 ounces hard salami, such as Genoa, Felino, or Sopressata, cut into bite-sized pieces, you could also use pepperoni or ham 10 ounces (about 1 cup) grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise cup sliced black olives cup finely chopped red onion cup grated Parmesan cheese, preferably freshly ground ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley ¼ cup chopped fresh basil (if using dried, add 1/2 teaspoon to the dressing)
For the Italian dressing:
½ cup olive oil 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice 1 tsp Dijon mustard 1 tsp honey 1 tsp minced fresh garlic or 1/2 tsp chopped dried garlic ½ tsp dried oregano tsp dried basil (if not using fresh) Salt and freshly ground black pepper Ground red pepper flakes for serving, optional
Cook the pasta according to package directions in salted water. Drain and reserve a cup of pasta cooking water. Transfer the pasta to a large baking sheet to cool for 15 minutes. To make the dressing, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, honey, garlic, oregano, and basil (if using dried). Season with Salt and black pepper. Place cooled pasta in a large bowl and add bell pepper, mozzarella, salami, tomatoes, black olives, red onion, Parmesan cheese, parsley, and basil (if using fresh). Add 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta cooking water to the dressing and whisk to combine. Add the sauce to the pasta mixture and toss to combine. Add more pasta cooking water to the salad if desired. Season with Salt and black pepper. Serve all at once or refrigerate until ready to serve (up to 2 days).