Seeking pasta salad inspiration
March 16, 2012 8:35 AM   Subscribe

I said I'd bring pasta salad to a potluck, and now I lack inspiration. Does anyone have any particularly interesting and/or delicious pasta salad ideas or recipes?

Pretty much anything goes: vegetarian, vegan, meat-heavy, old-fashioned, adventurous... it just has to be some sort of pasta salad.
posted by craichead to Food & Drink (32 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
Super easy and fresh tasting: fusili, fresh mozarella, cherry tomatoes, and tons of parsley (or ruccola if you prefer). Add olive oil, and maybe even a bit finely chopped garlic (while pasta is still warm).

Ingredient quantities are all "to taste".
posted by molecicco at 8:41 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Try for a change Bittman's cold noodles with Sesame Sauce. It's fresh and very good.
posted by faustdick at 8:42 AM on March 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

Artichoke hearts?
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 8:42 AM on March 16, 2012

Simple receipe:

Garlic powder
Diced red, green and yellow pepper.

Season to your preference with the mayo and the garlic depending on the size of the salad you need, but don't underestimate the mayo. This salad can be too dry without enough mayo. Or eliminate the garlic and add in surimi (that immitation seafood that looks like crab.)

Both are winners. Tell everyone it's a secret receipe from your local deli.
posted by lstanley at 8:42 AM on March 16, 2012

Best answer: Everyone always freaks out when I bring this Orzo Salad with Chickpeas, Feta, and Dill to things.
posted by something something at 8:45 AM on March 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

My mom does something like molecicco's pasta, except she puts a ton of garlic and fresh basil in a bowl with oil and cherry tomatoes, and then adds the hot pasta. No mozzarella, although that'd be a great addition. Adding the pasta hot wilts the basil and cooks the tomatoes just slightly.
posted by punchtothehead at 8:46 AM on March 16, 2012

This is something I made up when shopping hungry, it is a nice dense salad.

multi-colored spiral pasta, frozen peas, italian sausage cooked and cut up, raw red peppers. Instead of Mayo use sour cream and a packet of the dried vegetable soup mix!
posted by effigy at 8:47 AM on March 16, 2012

I like vegetable spirals, tri-color pasta. Cook it just past al-dente, drain and chill. 20 minutes before leaving for potluck, toss in:

Fresh mozzarella, crumbled
Cut up Roma tomatoes
Fresh Basil

You can add in olive oil if you like but I find that the juice from the tomatoes coats everything enough and leaves it with a fresher taste than adding oil.

I overcook the pasta because it is firmer when cold and al-dente might be too hard when chilled.
posted by myselfasme at 8:47 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't like salads that much, but I loved this couscous salad when someone brought it to a BBQ.
posted by bread-eater at 8:50 AM on March 16, 2012

My mom makes a fantastic pasta salad that is based on one she had at Monterey Vineyards years ago. The recipe makes a huge amount, but you can scale it down, and it keeps fairly well in the fridge.

Dressing: 1 cup soy sauce, 1/2 c. brown sugar, 10 (yes, 10) cloves crushed garlic, 1 tbsp grated ginger, 1 tbsp hoisin sauce, 2 tbsp sesame oil.

Pour this over 2 lb. fusilli, radiatore, or some other shape that will soak up the sauce while the pasta is still warm, and refrigerate overnight. It will seem way too saucy but the pasta will soak it all up.

Next day, add whatever sounds good to you: scallions, cubed chicken, peapods, wonton strips, etc. For a final touch she suggests toasting 1/2 c. sesame seeds, adding them to 1 c. vegetable oil, and tossing that in right before you serve the pasta.
posted by Flannery Culp at 9:01 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Whichever pasta salad you choose to make, make sure to add fresh baby spinach to will make any salad better.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 9:01 AM on March 16, 2012

This is probably not what you're expecting, but I love it. My family's recipe for hot entree pasta salad (warning: ingredients are meant to be eyeballed, rather than measured)

1 pound Vegetable spiral pasta, tri-color
1-2 blocks extra-firm tofu
Chopped raw broccoli (or other veggies of your choice). If using just broccoli, you want about two and a half stalks' worth.
1 tsp. Ground ginger
Soy sauce
3 cloves Crushed garlic
Vegetable oil
Cooking wine
A lemon (or some juice - you just need a squeeze of it)

The easy part is the pasta - cook it al dente.

For the rest, it's more complicated. In a pot or deep pan, heat up enough oil to get a good saute going, add ginger and garlic to the pan and let them cook for a bit.

Pour in some soy sauce (enough to smell strong as it heats) and then toss in the tofu, mix it in (and maybe pour some more sauce) so it's coated with the mixture, and let it marinate, covered, over low heat over about 8-10 minutes.

Once that's done, add some water and cooking wine to the pan - not a ton, but enough to get some steam going. Add the veggies, turn the heat up a bit and cover it to let them steam.

Once the vegetables are ready, add the vegetable/tofu mix to the pasta. Pour in some of the marinade too, but probably not all of it - you don't want to turn the salad into a stew.

Finally, mix together 1/4 cup of soy sauce, 1/3 cup of oil and a squeeze of lemon juice as a dressing. Mix this into the salad slowly, to make sure it coats evenly, and you're ready to serve.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:29 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can of good-quality tuna, chopped parsley, capers, lemon zest, lemon, olive oil, sea salt. All to taste.
posted by Erasmouse at 9:33 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Penne, Parmesan, still crispy steamed asparagus, and pine nuts roasted in lots of olive oil and salt. (Pour the olive oil and salt over the top. If you do it while it's still hot, it'll melt the Parmesan.). Any time I make this, most people love it, some people pick out the pine nuts and leave them on their plate but eat the rest and a few people come back for thirds and then try to steal the leftovers.
posted by artychoke at 9:40 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is the pasta salad you are looking for. Green onions, lemon, arugula, macaroni, apple, heaven.
posted by ephemerista at 9:48 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I love a variation on this salad. Lots of room for playing around - I've seen it made with Israeli couscous instead of orzo, baby spinach instead of arugula, almonds instead of pinenuts, craisins instead of cherries, etc. And it's definitely better with feta than riccota - more saltiness to contrast with the sweet.
posted by twoporedomain at 9:58 AM on March 16, 2012

Best answer: This lentil and couscous salad from Epicurious is something I've made for my husband's office potlucks, and it's gotten repeat requests. I've used brown lentils, de Puy lentils, and those pretty black "Beluga" lentils with equally strong results. Similarly, spinach can be substituted for the arugula if you like, and whole wheat couscous works as well as the regular kind. I think what makes this so vibrantly delicious is the fresh mint and making sure that you use a really good quality feta. The recipe is a rare confluence of genuine tastiness/crowd appeal and healthfulness.
posted by little mouth at 10:22 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I posted this recipe in a previous thread about summer salads. It's my favourite pasta salad to make, and pretty easy:

Tuna Parsley Pasta Salad

3 cups uncooked medium-sized chunky pasta (e.g. rotini)
1 tin premium smoked tuna in oil [like this], flaked roughly with fork before adding to salad
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 cups minced fresh parsley [I prefer curly to flat-leafed]
salt and pepper to taste
  1. cook pasta and drain
  2. mix with other ingredients
  3. serve warm [but--since you'll make it ahead of time and refrigerate it before the potluck--it's good cold too]
I like to add uncooked fresh shelled peas from the garden when they are in season.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:23 AM on March 16, 2012

BLT Pasta Salad
posted by ersatzkat at 10:29 AM on March 16, 2012

Ranch Chicken and Bacon Pasta Salad.

Definitely add dill (fresh or dried) and fresh chives, if you can. I highly recommend peas too.

This is not at all an elevated-type pasta salad, but what it lacks in foodie-ness it makes up for in bacon.
posted by mireille at 10:55 AM on March 16, 2012

Cooked pasta, peas, grated parmesan and pesto. Simple and tastes great cold.
posted by Atom12 at 11:01 AM on March 16, 2012

Best answer: Like the Bittman recipe above but much more colorful is Pioneer Woman's Asian Noodle Salad. It's even better with whole-wheat spaghetti/linguini, in my mind. That recipe makes a ton, too.
posted by jocelmeow at 11:24 AM on March 16, 2012

Add a schwack of julienned veggies to hot pasta - I usually go with bell peppers, mushrooms, scallions, zucchini, and marinated olives from a jar (you know those stuffed with those little red peppers). Toss with a tiny bit of olive oil and garlic, and use the olive brine as needed to season. Oh so good.
posted by tatiana131 at 11:26 AM on March 16, 2012

I LOVE this pasta salad, and it strikes people as unusual. I like vinegar-based pasta salads as opposed to mayo-based, so that's a big part of the appeal for me.

Notes: I never used fresh mozzarella because when I started making this recipe years ago, it wasn't as common and easy to access. Cubes of regular mozz are just fine and I continue using them to this day. Also, don't be afraid of the "let stand at room temperature" instruction--I've made this tons of times and it's never made anyone sick (my husband always looks askance at this direction, but I think the vinegar acts as a preservative). Mollie Katzen's original cookbook casts this as a "before and after work special" and that's the way to do it--throw the stuff in the bowl early in the morning to marinate and then do the rest when you're ready for dinner.
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:55 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have another Asian noodle salad recipe. Mine is far less healthy than jocelmeow's, but I can testify it is very tasty. I demanded the recipe from someone and have had the recipe demanded from me.


1 medium head green cabbage
4-6 scallions
Chop & set aside.

1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup sesame seeds 1/2 cup slivered almonds
2 packages ramen chicken noodles & seasoning UNCOOKED
Saute until light brown & set aside.
(note from me, sautéing uncooked ramen noodles is really hard so I've always taken the unopened package and beat on it with something hard to smash the noodles and make them easier to sauté)

3/4 cup oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp vinegar
Mix together until sugar dissolves.

When ready to serve, combine all three mixtures A. B. C.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:14 PM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I came here to rec the orzo feta chickpea dill salad and saw someone else has already done so. Cool.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 1:05 PM on March 16, 2012

Cheese tortillini, cooked, cooled. Add italian dressing, plus veggies of your choice, plus cheese of your choice. Olives if you desire (I do not desire). Yum.
posted by dpx.mfx at 1:14 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

In the summer we eat a tuna and white bean pasta salad at least once a week:

-Short pasta (I love orrechiete for this, but any shape will work)
-Italian style tuna packed in olive oil (1 can per 1/2 pound of pasta)
-Canneloni or white beans, drained and rinsed
-Lots of veggies (I particularly like celery, water chestnuts, and black olives. I don't like them, but green peppers would be great for those who do)
-Any kind of vinaigrette, especially a nice, garlicky one (I use homemade)

We never, ever get sick of this. It's filling yet healthy and so satisfying.

If you want more precise amounts or directions, let me know.
posted by primate moon at 2:27 PM on March 16, 2012

The best pasta salad I ever made was from the splendid table, and I sadly can't find it now. It went something like this:

- oil cured olives, pitted and chopped
- oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, pitted and chopped
- thinly sliced red onion, caramelized
- capers
- possibly some gently cooked garlic
- chopped basil
- lots of parmesan
- olive oil
- oh right, pasta

I'm probably leaving a few things out, but you won't go wrong with the above.

The other pasta salad I love is stolen from a local restaurant.
- israeli couscous, or acini de pepe, or orzo
- caramelized onions
- fresh basil, dill, and/or parsley
- salt and pepper

I think it's fabulous with seafood.
posted by bunderful at 4:24 PM on March 16, 2012

To make it easy, go to an upscale grocery store that has an olive bar. Get some pitted green olives, some pitted black olives, marinated artichoke hearts, chickpeas, roasted red peppers, and marinated mushrooms.

Toss these, with the marinade, into your pasta. Add some crumbled feta cheese, chopped scallions and/or parsley, and (weird but delicious) golden raisins. The marinades should provide enough dressing but if you need more, add some olive oil and salt and pepper. Red pepper flakes if you want some kick.
posted by elizeh at 9:53 PM on March 16, 2012

Best answer: orzo with roasted vegetebles. I make this every summer and it is delicious.
posted by gatorae at 6:29 PM on March 17, 2012

Are you comfortable with roasting vegetables? If so, a very nice pasta salad can be made by tossing roasted eggplant, bell peppers and garlic with ziti, olive oil, salt and parmesan cheese. Pro-tip: if you add some chicken and use spaghetti instead of ziti, this makes a very nice main course.
posted by lunasol at 1:15 AM on March 18, 2012

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