For me, pasta salad is a comfort food. Everyone’s mom has a family recipe, probably because cold pasta salads are a tasty way of cleaning out the fridge. Cook whatever pasta you have in the back of the cupboard, throw in some cooked meats and veggies, add a random assortment of herbs, some sort of dressing, and BAM! A quick lunch or pretty contribution to your next potluck.
The recipe below is pretty vague… that’s kind of the point. Pasta salads are very forgiving, and you can use pretty much anything.
I made one this morning with my favorite stinky foods. Stinky is a harsh word… let’s call them “pungent.” I mixed some penne noodles with tuna, feta cheese, tomato, celery, dill, and a big splash of caesar dressing. Very tasty, but keep some mints on hand!
So, here’s a basic guideline for creating your own salad.
8 oz (half of an average-sized box) small pasta (think rotini, penne, macaroni, farfalle, wagon wheels…)
1/2 to 1 cup chopped protein (I used one can of tuna, drained. Try leftover chicken, cubed tofu, cooked shrimp, canned beans, whatever.)
something sweet or salty (Here’s where you can go nuts. Cold pasta salads are a fast way to experiment with different flavors. Throw in a bit of crumbled feta or blue cheese, a can of mandarin orange slices or water chestnuts, sunflower seeds, raisins, baby corn, frozen edamame, leftover cooked veggies, whatever you have kicking around in your fridge or cupboard.)
2 celery ribs, minced OR one cucumber, diced
1 fresh tomato, diced
optional: spices. Curry, garlic, or onion powder, fresh basil, Italian seasoning, soy sauce, etc.
dressing: For a homestyle classic, use mayonnaise. For the health conscious, try a high quality olive oil. My personal favorite is bottled salad dressing. I think it’s a happy medium.
Cook pasta in boiling water until tender. Rinse under cold running water to remove excess starch and cut down on chilling time. Fun Fact: You should NEVER rinse pasta being served with a hot sauce. The leftover starch from cooking helps sauces and cheese stick. Pour rinsed pasta into a mixing bowl, or throw it right into some Tupperware.
Add in your meat, cheese, fruits, veggies, and spices. Give it a good toss. Now, stir in dressing to your taste: a spoonful of mayonnaise, a splash of salad dressing, or a drizzle of olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. If using bottled dressing and/or salty cheeses, you won’t need much salt. If using mayonnaise, you can afford to go a little heavier with your spices. Mayo and curry play surprisingly well together!
Chill. Give it another good toss immediately before serving.
Some Combos to Try:
Leftover chicken with mandarin oranges and a dash of curry powder
Canned tuna with feta cheese and a generous sprinkle of dill (pictured!)
Canned black beans, rinsed and drained, with lots of fresh basil
Sliced peperoni/sausage with fresh mozzarella and oregano (I don’t eat pork, but this one’s a crowd pleaser.)
Have fun experimenting!