Give Pasta Salad A New Lease On Life By Rethinking Your Dressing

Pasta salad primavera with linens, salt, oil, and cheese
Pasta salad primavera with linens, salt, oil, and cheese - Lilechka75/Getty Images

When curating a spread for a backyard barbecue or packaging up items for a picnic, there's a carb classic that almost always makes the cut: Pasta salad. But although pasta may be one of the world's most beloved foods, serve it cold with a vinegar or mayo-based dressing, and you may wind up with a love-it-or-hate-it debate.

Instead of banishing polarizing pasta salad from your cookout menu, maybe all you need is to reevaluate how to prepare it. The pasta part is a no-brainer, but the way you dress it is definitely up for discussion. Consider what you love about your favorite pasta dishes -- the ones you typically serve piping hot -- and whether that same sauce will work in this scenario. Using this as a filter probably means leaving behind the bottle of vinaigrette.

By sparing your pasta the vinegar-heavy bath so common for this dish, you give it a chance to shine in a totally new and exciting way -- one that still feels familiar, and closer to those craveable dishes you already know and love. When paired with a summer picnic, it's hard to imagine a sunnier and more satisfying scene.

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What Sauces May Improve Your Pasta Salad

Pesto pasta salad
Pesto pasta salad - Haoliang/Getty Images

The most common preparations for pasta salad dressings are vinaigrettes and mayo-based creations. With the former, what works so well on crisp, fresh greens gets absorbed into the pasta, making it aggressively tart -- and not in a good way. In the case of the latter, not only is it off-putting to some people who prefer a lighter and less creamy dish (particularly on a warm day) but it requires a lot of maintenance and caution, as egg-based mayo can create some less than stable food-safety conditions. For the same reason, your go-to may not be cream-based Alfredo or vodka sauce, or even butter and parmesan, as those sauces are subject to these same pitfalls (and butter will harden when cold). Instead, opt for pasta sauces that start with olive oil as a base, as they are ideal for this.

A pasta primavera highlights in-season produce while relying on oil as the base, with a subtle pop of acidity from lemon juice rather than a heavy-handed vinegar addition. Try a whole wheat pesto pasta salad, which brings a nutty, grainy flavor to the picnic table, all paired with a beautifully aromatic, bright herbaceous profile. Convert spaghetti aglio e olio into a pasta salad; incorporate red pepper flakes or pan-fried jalapeño for a kick (although read on for best pasta shape choices as you may want to substitute spaghetti in this case). Given the delicious versatility of olive oil, this simple switch should provide plenty of room for inspiration.

Additional Considerations For Pasta Salad

Roasted veggie penne pasta salad
Roasted veggie penne pasta salad - Svetlana Monyakova/Shutterstock

While pasta noodles are a great canvas for so many flavors and ingredients, not all of them will shine when not served hot. Plus, melty cheeses can become rubbery when cooled down. Like butter, the fat in most meats will also congeal and become pretty unpleasant when cold. To add protein, use a cured option like prosciutto, or one from which you've thoroughly rendered out the fat by cooking in advance, like pancetta or chorizo.

You can add elements that are easy to prepare but deliver on flavor and texture. Fresh herbs are tasty in pasta salad, and you don't run the risk of damaging them with heat. Roasted red peppers and olives are flavorful ingredients that you can pick up jarred and ready, or you can also roast your own veggies ahead of time. Chunky raw veggies are great in a green salad, but here the texture can feel harsh against the soft pasta. Nuts or fried chickpeas add contrast (just don't toss those into the salad until you're ready to serve, to make sure they maintain that crunch factor).

When selecting pasta shape, small and short is a good rule of thumb, as they retain sauce well and are easier to eat in a cookout or picnic situation. With this new sauce strategy, your pasta salad can be the life of the party no matter what.

Read the original article on The Daily Meal.