Pasta Salad: A Summer BBQ Classic
Pasta salad is a very popular summer classic and for good reason! It’s cool, delicious and filling and it’s also extremely easy to make. Although you can buy pasta salad from the grocery store, it’s often filled with preservatives and not as delicious as making it at home. Trust me, give these recipes a try and you’ll have a bowl full of pasta salad that your friends and family will love in under an hour.
You’ll find two recipes below: one for an oil-based dressing and then also a mayo-based dressing. Following that are directions for how to cook the pasta as well as some ideas for vegetables you can put in there.
Oil-Based Pasta Salad Dressing
Although you can buy a bottle of Italian dressing from the store, dump it on the pasta and add a few vegetables, it’s way better to go the extra mile and make your own. It’s so simple and you likely have all the ingredients on hand in your pantry.
Here’s how you make the dressing:
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/4 red wine vinegar (or white vinegar will work too)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced finely
- 1 teaspoon each of dried basil + oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard seed (or can put in a little bit of fresh dijon mustard instead)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt (adjust to taste, I use double that usually!)
- 1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper (adjust to taste, I use a lot more than that!)
Mix well in a shaker and set in the fridge until use. You can keep this for a couple weeks in your fridge if you want to make a larger batch. You could also dump some chopped up sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil there, along with a bit of their oil to kick up the deliciousness factor by double.
We prefer to serve ours in a nice wooden salad bowl.
Mayo-Based Pasta Salad Dressing
There’s more to a mayo-based pasta salad than just dumping a jar of mayo over cooked pasta! Step it up a notch and get a bit of seasoning in there. Your friends and family will keep coming back for more. A word of caution about mayo-based pasta salads. Be careful of leaving them out in the hot sun at that backyard BBQ or picnic. That’s some food poisoning waiting to happen right there!
- 1 cup mayonnaise (use your favourite brand. I love Miracle Whip).
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar (or a bit more, adjust to taste)
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon each of sugar + salt
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
Mix all that stuff up and put it in your fridge until use. If you want to kick your delicious to the next level, consider making this salad with some homemade Cavatelli Pasta.
Putting your Pasta Salad Together- All About the Pasta
Now that you’ve gotten your pasta salad dressing taken care of, it’s time to focus on the pasta and the veggies. I’ll start by saying that it’s flexible. Really, really flexible. Almost any kind of pasta and veggies will work. Just use whatever you have on hand.
However, if you’re really going to step up your pasta salad making game, you’ll need to make your own fresh pasta. Check out our recommendations for Top Five Pasta Makers. In particular, this fully-automatic Philips pasta machine, coming in at #3 on that list will make some nice pasta for a salad.
If you’re going to use store-bought pasta, the chunkier the better. Rotini, Penne (check out: Ziti vs Penne), shells, etc. Anything that can scoop up that sauce and keep it close!
Cook the pasta according to the package directions and then immediately run under cool water to stop the cooking process. Be sure not to overcook the pasta! Al Dente pasta makes the best pasta salad.
All About the Pasta Salad Vegetables
You’ll want to add some vegetables to your pasta salad in order to give it some crunch and extra deliciousness. Some ideas include: peppers, red onion, green onion, carrot, celery, fresh peas, fresh herbs (parsley, basil, oregano), cucumber, cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts packed in oil, olives, cooked (and cooled) green beans, broccoli or cauliflower (blanched), and asparagus (blanched).
Meat, Fish, Cheese or Beans?
The pasta, dressing and veggies are enough to make a delicious pasta salad. Really. It’s all you need. But, if you want to add a bit of protein, consider the following: a can of drained tuna, cooked chickpeas, fried bacon bits, cooked shrimp, fresh grated parmesan cheese, salami, or hard-boiled eggs.
Mix it All Up
Take that cooled down pasta, throw in the veg and optional protein, pour the dressing liberally over it and mix it all up. I like to use a big metal mixing bowl with a lid to cut down on those dishes. Just put the lid on and go to your party.
Remember, the pasta will suck up some of that sauce so be generous. Nobody likes a stingy cook! Put in the fridge for at least a few hours so all the flavours have a chance to mingle and get all delicious from their neighbours. It’ll give the pasta a chance to soak up that delicious homemade pasta salad dressing too.
Then, bring your pasta salad to that summer BBQ or potluck and you’ll be the hero of the party. The total hero. Everyone loves a delicious homemade salad, done up right.