Perfect Pasta Salad {plus tips I’ve learned}


4 Tips for Making Perfect Pasta Salad

Pasta salad is a great dish to bring to a party, family get-together or for summer entertaining. It makes a great side, and if you are like me, you can make a meal out of it. It’s also so versatile, that you can add just about anything to it. However, for years…I just couldn’t get it right. After much trial and error, I have come up with what I think is the Perfect Pasta Salad!

Perfect Pasta Salad Bowl EAH


  • First tip, it’s important to cook your pasta al dente (it should say on the box how many minutes this is, I like to use rotini pasta and it’s usually 7 minutes). This will prevent the pasta from getting too mushy/soggy because the pasta will soak up some of the dressing as it sits.
  • Second, and this is where I often went wrong, you need equal amounts of pasta to vegetables/add-ins. I like to chop my main veggies fairly uniform (“bite” size), like cucumbers, tomatoes, broccoli, etc. My other ingredients that I use less of because of the strong flavor, such as onions and peppers, are chopped smaller. By add-ins, I am talking about not only vegetables, but also cheese, meats (pepperoni, ham, chicken), etc.
  • Third,  the dressing…everyone has their favorite and how much they like, but too much or too little can turn your perfect pasta salad into a “ehhh, it’s okay” pasta salad. My rule of thumb is 4:4:14 cups cooked pasta, 4 cups veggies/add-ins, 1 cup dressing. Even when I make a large batch for a cook-out or party, I stick with my ratios. See, math does come in handy sometimes! The pasta and veggies will soak up some of the dressing, so if you make this the night before, you may need to add a little more dressing the next day. This is a good starting point, and you can adjust to suit your taste buds.
  • Finally, and this is just a suggestion because they are not always readily available, but I highly recommend adding fresh herbs. My favorites to use are basil or cilantro.

Pasta Salad Ingredients EAH

I am particularly fond of the above ingredients for my pasta salad. However, I usually add peppers and I always add some kind of cheese, which somehow did not make the picture! I usually use feta, but feel free to add whatever is your favorite.

Perfect Pasta Salad {plus tips I've learned}
This pasta salad is the perfect side or light meal. Great for parties, cookouts, and more.
  • 8 oz dry pasta (will yield about 4 cups when cooked)
  • 4 cups desired vegetables/add-ins (such as cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, onions, fresh herbs, cheese)
  • 1 cup dressing (such as House Italian, Oil & Vinegar, etc.)
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  1. Cook pasta according to directions on package for al dente. Drain and rinse with cool water.
  2. Place drained pasta in a large bowl, adding vegetables and desired add-ins.
  3. Add dressing, salt, pepper and stir to combine.
  4. Place in fridge to chill or serve immediately.

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Kim is a contributing writer for Eat at Home and author of food & family blog, Makin’ it Mo’Betta. She blogs about her adventures in the kitchen, incorporating life as mom to teen and tween girls, as well as a young son with nut allergies, and wife to a diabetic husband. Life is never dull!

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  1. This looks so good. Thanks! A tip I like to share is to rinse your pasta in cold water after the cooking time to stop the cooking process. It keeps the pasta from being sticky. I will be trying your salad soon.

  2. Hi:

    I love your reducing this to a formula. Pasta Salad can be so good or so blah — I personally like lighter dressing than many folks, but there is such a difference in tastes. (I always get my dressing on side in restaurants and usually use very small amount — surprising wait staff who expects those who want on side want to really pour it on. Well anyway –) Next time I make the usual kind will keep your formula in mind.

    I also want to share a “recipe” I developed years ago which I conveyed to a guy at work who adopted it and named it after me. He was a really cute young single guy who lived with his sister and brought his own lunch to work. He was not a vegetarian, but he really watched his diet, health wise. He also needed recipes that were quick and had a lot of volume, since he was tall and needed FOOD at lunch,

    The idea of this salad was:

    One 8 oz bag of pasta of choice, cooked al dente.

    1 large bag of frozen veggies of choice — any combo. (Not thawed, not cooked)

    Bottled dressing of choice, poured on to taste.

    Salt and pepper if desired.

    I suggested that he add fresh veggies to pep it up, sometimes he did. I do that. Things liked chopped onion or green onion, celery, carrots — all for crunch and more flavor. But sometimes he said it was just so easy in a busy week to boil the pasta, add the frozen veggies and the dressing, refrigerate. In the morning, scoop it up and come to work.

    Another of his specialties, which I did not appreciate at the time but now do was what he called a “salad sandwich”. He would make a tossed salad and then put it between slices of whole grain bread or into a pita. No meat or cheese. This is really good, I’ve discovered. And in England, in vending machines, I found sandwiches made on whole grain bread with salad filling and sliced cheese. Yummy!

    Right now I am getting hungry and think I am going to make a pasta salad I adapted from a restaurant called Russell Street Deli. Whole wheat penne, sauteed mushrooms, arugula, TOASTED peanut oil, and lemon juice. Divine.

    Have a great day and thanks for the wonderful and fun blog. I’ve been cooking more since I started reading your blog than I have in years!


  3. Do you blanch any of the vegetables? I’m thinking maybe the broccoli and carrots so they’re not SO crunchy? Or do you leave all the veggies raw?

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