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Pasta Salad: Your New Best Friend for Summertime Meals

Updated on October 3, 2019
Carb Diva profile image

Exploring food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

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How to Build a Better Pasta Salad

There are so many ways to make pasta salad. Why do we always resort to the boring (and calorie-laden) standard of elbow macaroni with chopped dill pickle and an over-abundance of full-fat mayonnaise?

There are so many much more imaginative ways to make a pasta salad; let’s look at the basic ingredients and possible ways to combine them.

The Pasta

Two words—whole grain. No, please don’t run away! Whole grain pasta made today are not the gummy cardboard-tasting kinds of pasta of just a few years ago. Give it a try, and consider these interesting shapes:

  • shell
  • penne
  • tortellini
  • farfalle
  • orecchiette
  • cavatappi
  • rotelle

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Vegetables

The choices are almost endless. Use the “already washed/diced/chopped” vegetables in cello containers if you are running short of time.

  • arugula
  • artichoke hearts, (canned/rinsed/drained, or frozen/thawed)
  • avocado, diced
  • baby bok choy
  • broccoli florets, blanched
  • carrot, grated
  • celery, diced
  • green beans, blanched and sliced
  • green onion, sliced
  • mushrooms, sliced
  • red onion, diced
  • peas, fresh or frozen (thawed)
  • peppers (red, orange, yellow, or green), diced
  • spinach, fresh
  • tomatoes, chopped
  • zucchini, diced

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Protein

Adding protein to a salad transforms your side dish into a hearty main dish meal.

  • beans (black, cannellini, garbanzo, kidney), rinsed and drained
  • canned tuna, water- or oil-packed, drained
  • cheese, diced or crumbled
  • cooked bacon, cooked and diced
  • cooked chicken, diced
  • cooked crab, diced or shredded
  • cooked ham, diced
  • cooked shrimp
  • cooked turkey, diced
  • hard-boiled eggs, chopped
  • prosciutto
  • salami
  • smoked salmon

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Yummy Add-Ins

Invigorate your salad with these little pops of flavor:

  • capers
  • dried cranberries
  • dried raisins
  • minced fresh basil leaves
  • minced fresh cilantro
  • minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • minced fresh rosemary leaves
  • olives (black, green, kalamata), rinsed and chopped
  • roasted red bell pepper (jarred, rinse, drained, chopped)
  • sun-dried tomatoes
  • walnuts, chopped

Dressing

Bottled salad dressing is convenient but high in sodium and often full of preservatives. Making your own is so very easy. Here are two simple recipes.

Creamy Salad Dressing

  • 1/2 cup buttermilk or Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar

Mix by hand or blend with a food processor.

Vinaigrette

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons minced fresh herbs (any combination of oregano, basil, marjoram, tarragon, parsley)
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced shallots
  • salt and pepper to taste

Place in a jar with a lid and shake to blend or pulse in a blender.

Combinations You'll Love

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Greek Salad

  • Pasta - 4 cups cooked farfalle (bowtie) pasta
  • Veggies - 1 cup diced tomato, 1 cup diced cucumber, 1/2 cup chopped artichoke heart
  • Protein - 1/2 to 1 cup feta cheese
  • Yummy add-ins - 1/2 cup sliced kalamata olives, 1/4 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Vinaigrette dressing

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Smoked Salmon and Roasted Red Pepper

  • Pasta - 4 cups cooked penne
  • Veggies - 1 cup roasted red pepper, 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • Protein - 1/2 cup flaked smoked salmon
  • Yummy add-ins - 1/4 cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Vinaigrette dressing

Chicken-Rosemary Pasta Salad

  • Pasta - 4 cups cooked farfalle (bow-tie) pasta
  • Veggies - 1 cup celery, diced
  • Protein - 2 cups diced cooked chicken
  • Yummy add-ins - 1/2 cup dried cranberries, 2 tablespoons fresh minced rosemary, 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • Creamy salad dressing

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Ham and Swiss Pasta Salad

  • Pasta - 4 cups cooked rotini
  • Veggies - 1 cup fresh (or frozen, defrosted) green peas, 1/2 cup diced red onion
  • Protein - 1 1/2 cups diced cooked ham
  • Yummy add-ins - 1 cup diced Swiss cheese
  • Creamy salad dressing

BLT Pasta Salad

  • Pasta - 4 cups cooked fusilli pasta
  • Veggies - 1 cup diced fresh tomato, 1 diced avocado, 2 cups fresh spinach leaves
  • Protein - 1/2 cup crisp cooked bacon, diced
  • Yummy add-ins - 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, 1/2 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
  • Creamy Salad Dressing

Tuna, Chickpea, and Pasta Salad

  • Pasta - 4 cups cooked shell pasta
  • Veggies - 2 cups green beans, blanched (cooked crisp)
  • Protein - 1 can tuna, drained and flaked, 1 can garbanzo beans
  • Yummy add-ins - 1/4 cup minced fresh basil leaves
  • Vinaigrette dressing

© 2015 Linda Lum

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    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      17 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      No que linda it was a full on threat. But you came shining through like the sun opening up on a cloud covered mountain.

      I messed up in a way. I got soft type Mozerralla (sp) and made balls. Not smart but it worked for the flavor just not fun to eat.

      I think next one will be more Mex with grated goat cheese. We will go with some Carne Asada.

      But cheers as he ate a massive amount of a great full triangle for food.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      17 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric, it's been 50 years since I studied Spanish, but feo(a) means ugly. I'm hoping you've made a mis-step in your translation. Just "Linda" works for me.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      17 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Que Linda is a Spanglish term my boy knows. In our parts it means how beautiful. In my Castillion understanding it means "how cute". Well my boy now calls you Que Linda. We shall see how this supper goes. You may become Nina Fea. -- I will write before I sleep.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      17 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric, what is more memorable, the destination, or the journey? I love your description of the trip to the market.

      My daughter is, more often than not, embarrassed by me. I can spend 10 minutes in conversation with a perfect stranger. (But, isn't it said a stranger is a friend you haven't yet met?).

      I never was that way...until I retired. When I was working 60+ hours per week a trip to the grocer was not a time for idle conversation, or anything else for that matter. It was a necessary evil that had to be done on time and with punctuality (is that a real word?) because time was a precious resource.

      Now, my days are certainly full, but they are MY days. Life is good. God is good. I can talk with people and share and spread love!!

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      17 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Peggy, I have no doubt that chickpea pasta is higher in protein. Chickpeas are PACKED with protein. I don't always care for whole grain pasta in hot dishes, but it's more sturdy and works really well in cold pasta salads.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      17 months ago from Houston, Texas

      You have some good combinations listed for pasta salads. I enjoy eating whole wheat pastas. There are also other pastas made from chick peas and other non traditional ingredients. I have a package of the chick pea spaghetti shaped pasta but have yet to try it. Someone on a cooking show said it tasted just like regular pasta but had more protein.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      17 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Now my pasta are getting just about right. Ready for a blanching in my mind

      But maybe for your question answer stuff.

      What is that crazy elf tune about whistling while we work and that horrible one about a small world after all. So I am scooting around getting my stuff and gals would smile at as a happy crazy man. I was loving my picks for the salad. I waited a minute to get a little one in front of me with the cart.

      And then with my load I saw old Maude and chatted about New Orleans and dropped a buck to her. Getting the food is half the fun.

      Do you agree?

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      17 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Oooh, so pasta and egg whites, black olives, and cherry tomatoes. Mixed with crunchy shreds of colorful cabbage and dressed with a light vinaigrette. Oregano should be dried (not fresh), but cilantro should be fresh. It will be so colorful.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      17 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      I am about ready to head for the store. I think I will go with a bit of that and a bit of that. I want him to love the first so he is excited about the next one.

      Definitely Vinaigrette, boiled egg whites, olives. Some light cheese and spinach. I am debating the bacon and we will hold off on beans. We love coleslaw so some cabbage. I just won't let him see other type spices - who can live without Oregano. I think cherry tomatoes. For sure Cilantro.

      I will let you know.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      17 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Rochelle, honestly I had forgotten about it too until he asked me for ideas on making pasta salad. There's got to be something here for everybody.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 

      17 months ago from California Gold Country

      I'm glad Eric brought this back to life. I must have missed it the first time around.

      Some delicious ideas here. I''ll have to try a few.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      17 months ago from Washington State, USA

      I anxiously await a full report from you. Your little man has some good instincts. Listen to him.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      17 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Do not get all giddy on me but today we try our first one. But we discussed it and the boy had some ideas. Let us see where it goes.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      17 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric, I am totally doing a happy dance right now!!!

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      17 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      This is eerie and amazing. It is like you pre-knew me. This is not only great but exactly what I need. Pre made is needed but we are tired of plain salads. Viet love pasta/noodles. No heat in the kitchen. This is happening.

      Did I mention - perfect for my "diet". You have got it going on!

      Thank you.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      4 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Hi Suzie HQ - I hope the dressing recipes are to your liking. Thanks for stopping by. Have a great day.

    • Suzie HQ profile image

      Suzanne Ridgeway 

      4 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Yummy recipe idea here for one of my favorite types of salad. Thanks for the the dressings, hard to get a really nice one so will give these a go!

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      4 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Thelma, I'm so glad you stopped by and that you like the recipes. Thank you also for sharing on FB. Happy weekend to you as well.

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 

      4 years ago from Germany and Philippines

      These are all delicious pasta salads. I have to try some of these. Thanks for sharing your recipes. Happy weekend! Shared in my fb so I can easily access this hub when needed. Thank you.

    • Rachel L Alba profile image

      Rachel L Alba 

      4 years ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

      Oh, that even sounds good!

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      4 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Rachel - you are so sweet! Thanks for the comments and vote up. When I need a salad in a hurry (for a potluck, for example), I cook a large pot of pasta and stir in a container of crab salad (the faux crab) from the deli.

    • Rachel L Alba profile image

      Rachel L Alba 

      4 years ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

      What great ideas for pasta salads. I love them for large crowds and in the summer too. Thanks for sharing your ideas for pasta salads. Voted up.

      Blessings to you.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      4 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill and Kristen - thank you for your support and kind words. There are so many combinations of flavors and textures available. Please let me know which ones you and enjoyed.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      4 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Perfect timing Carb Diva. I've been thinking of making my own pasta salads this spring and summer, like macaroni salad this week. Very useful! Voted up!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I was just about to shut it down for the day when you popped up, Linda. Pasta salad really is the perfect summertime meal, isn't it? I love your additions. I do believe I'll try some of your ideas. Thanks my friend.

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