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Five favorite pasta salad recipes, for picnics or potluck

Greek pasta salad with sun-dried tomato vinaigrette, from The Perfect Pantry.

Pasta salad. The mere mention of it sends shivers up the spine of anyone who's stood on line at a buffet, and by the time they got to the pasta salad, discovered the soggy mess at the bottom of the serving bowl of overdressed noodles. Rest assured, my five favorite pasta salads in no way resemble those scary buffet dishes. No undercooked pasta, no glop at the bottom of the bowl, no slimy mouth feel. The secret? Underdress the pasta, reserving a bit of the dressing. Then, right before serving, taste the salad, and add only as much dressing as needed, and not a drop more. Now you know.

Tortellini and shrimp salad, from The Perfect Pantry.

I adore pasta salad, especially with a bit of protein mixed in to make it a complete meal, so it was tough to whittle my favorites list down to five. Last summer, Chelsea and I whipped up a Greek pasta salad with sun-dried tomato vinaigrette (top photo) that's been a huge hit. It's basically a vegan salad with some cheese added, because everything tastes better (to me) with cheese, and a tangy sun-dried tomato dressing. Omit the cheese for a meatless main dish, or add some shredded rotisserie chicken or chunks of cooked salmon.

Pasta with shrimp, tomato and kale pesto, from The Perfect Pantry.

As much as I adore pasta, I love shrimp even more, so two of my favorite summer side dishes for picnics and potlucks combine pasta with shrimp: first, shrimp with cheese-filled tortellini and a balsamic vinaigrette; second, rotini pasta with garlicky kale pesto, shrimp and tomato. Again, you could substitute cooked chicken in either of these salads, or go vegetarian with chunks of zucchini, peppers and cucumber.

Curried chicken pasta salad with apricots and cashews, from The Perfect Pantry.

Curried chicken salad is an old takeout standby in many of the little corner markets in my Boston neighborhood. I love my latest rendition, curried chicken pasta salad with apricots and cashews, and a dressing made with mango chutney.

Whole wheat orzo with cucumber, mint, feta and olives, from The Perfect Pantry.

I don't often use whole wheat pasta (Dreamfields low-carb is my pasta of choice), but this orzo makes the perfect foil for sharp kalamata olives, feta cheese and mint in this very Greek-inspired whole wheat orzo with cucumber, mint, feta, olives, and zahtar vinaigrette. Serve as a vegetarian main course for lunch, or on the side, with grilled fish or lamb.

For more pasta salad inspiration, use the search box in the upper right column, and type in the words "pasta salad" to find more recipes for picnic-perfect pasta dishes.

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Years ago I took a week-long cooking class in Florence with Giuliano Bugiali, a historian and Tuscan food purist. The very mention of cold pasta salad made him shudder. His response was, "If you like, ees okay, but ees not Italian."
I like it anyway.

Terrific recipes and just what I have been in the mood for.

Jean, I think a lot of people have had traumatic encounters with pasta salad, so I can understand Italian chefs wanting to disown it!

George, so glad! I love each of these salads and hope one of them will tickle your taste buds.

All these photos are making me drool, but the Greek Pasta Salad looks especially good to me!

Kalyn, that Greek pasta salad has been wildly popular. It's one of the best dishes Chelsea and I created together.

These all look great to me, and I agree that the amount of dressing is key - along with not overcooking the pasta in the first place!

Donalyn, you're absolutely right about the pasta. I should have mentioned that, too.

Great tips for making a successful pasta salad to remember - not overcooking pasta + under dressing. I'm with Kalyn - I love Greek salad, so that Greek Pasta Salad is definitely something I'd love.

Jeanette, the best thing about the Greek pasta salad is the dressing, which is also good on warm pasta, or as a dip for raw vegetables.

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