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.
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.
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 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.
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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