I love making pasta salad during spring and summer months because it can be used as a side dish or throw a protein like fish, chicken, tofu or steak on it and make it an entree. You can be as creative as you want and can even keep it simple and have your kids make it for you. Like our tip yesterday, it is important to get the basics down when creating the ultimate pasta salad. Making a rave-worthy pasta salad requires a bit more than just tossing pasta and add-ins into a bowl and hoping for the best. Allrecipes figured out just the right ratio of ingredients you need to produce irresistible pasta salads that will have people begging you for your secret recipe.
1. Cook 1 pound of pasta
Choose 16 ounces of bite-size pasta such as penne (shown above), farfalle (bow ties), fusilli (corkscrews), ziti, rotelle (wagon wheels), macaroni, or small shells. Cook the pasta in one gallon of boiling water seasoned with 2 tablespoons of salt until just tender. Drain but do not rinse the pasta. Instead, toss it with olive oil and dump it onto a rimmed baking sheet to cool. Don't use butter because it clumps up when it cools. Don’t overcook-the pasta salad will get mushy.
2. Prepare 2 Pounds of Main Ingredients
These are the salad's major add-ins, including cooked and raw vegetables, poultry, seafood, canned beans and mild cheeses. Some need little or no preparation before going into the salad. Others can be lightly cooked. Still others are best sautéed or grilled.
Tip: Choose at least 3 major flavorings. Let one ingredient dominate. For example, combine 1 pound of asparagus with 8 ounces each of sliced mushrooms and cherry tomatoes for a total of 2 pounds.
Asparagus, trimmed and cut into bite-size lengths
Carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch coins
Green beans, trimmed and cut into bite-size lengths
Snow peas or sugar snap peas, strings removed
Zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced 1/4-inch thick
Options for raw or canned vegetables:
Canned artichoke hearts, drained, rinsed, and quartered
Celery, sliced 1/4-inch thick
Mushrooms, thinly sliced
Cucumbers, quartered lengthwise, cut into bite-size pieces and lightly salted
Fennel, trimmed, halved, cored and thinly sliced
Avocados, halved, pitted, peeled, and cut into bite-size pieces (add at last minute to prevent darkening)
Zucchini, halved lengthwise if small, quartered lengthwise if large, then thinly sliced
Cherry tomatoes, halved and lightly salted
Bell peppers, cored and cut into bite-size strips
Tomatoes, seeded and cut into medium dice and lightly salted
Frozen green peas, thawed
Options for grilled or broiled vegetables:
Brush vegetables with olive oil and season with salt and pepper before grilling or broiling.
Eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds; cut into bite-size pieces after grilling
Fennel, trimmed, halved, core left intact, and cut into wedges; cut away tough core after grilling
Large whole mushrooms; slice or quarter after grilling
Bell peppers, cored, seeded, and quartered; cut into bite-size pieces after grilling
Zucchini, cut on the diagonal into slices 1/2-inch thick
Options for sautéed vegetables:
Asian-style salads taste best with lightly sautéed vegetables, particularly celery and peppers.
Celery, sliced 1/4-inch thick
Bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into bite-size strips
Options for other major add-ins:
Canned beans, drained and rinsed
Chicken breasts, grilled, sautéed or steamed and cut crosswise into thin bite-size strips
Italian sausage, steam-sautéed and sliced thin on a slight bias
Cooked and peeled shrimp
Canned tuna, drained
Mild cheeses (e.g., mozzarella, cheddar, Swiss, Monterey Jack), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Crabmeat (pasteurized lump), picked over for shell
Ham, sliced 1/4-inch thick and cut into bite-size strips
3. Choose Strong Flavors
More intense than the major add-ins, these ingredients should be used sparingly. Pick at least one representative from this category, but feel free to use two or three. Italian pasta salads often include salami and basil. Roasted peppers, pine nuts, and feta cheese are typical add-ins for Greek pasta salads. For Asian-style pasta salads, stick to nuts and seeds.
In most cases, add about 1/2 cup, unless otherwise noted.
Salami, sliced and quartered
Parmesan, shaved with a vegetable peeler
Goat cheese, crumbled
Capers, drained (1/4 cup)
Olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
Pepperoncini, drained and thinly sliced
Roasted peppers, cut into strips
Sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, cut into small dice
Bacon, fried and crumbled (8 ounces)
Prosciutto (8 ounces), thinly sliced, cut into small dice
Smoked salmon (8 ounces), thinly sliced, then cut into thin strips (other smoked fish and shellfish are possibilities as well)
Pine nuts, toasted
Roasted cashews, coarsely chopped
Roasted or honey-roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
Toasted sesame seeds (1/4 cup)
4. Add Bright Accents
No matter what else is in your pasta salad, always add a few sliced green onions or half of a diced small red onion. The types of onions are completely interchangeable, although green onions are usually included in Asian-style pasta salads.
Then mince 3 tablespoons fresh herbs and/or grate 2 teaspoons orange or lemon zest (the peel minus the bitter white pith).
Tip: For Asian-style pasta salads, consider cilantro, basil, and/or the citrus zests. Dill and mint are usually compatible with creamy-style salads. Rosemary and tarragon are strong flavors, so use just 1 tablespoon of either herb combined with 2 tablespoons of minced parsley.
And if you're ever in doubt about which herbs to use, you'll never go wrong with good ol' chopped fresh parsley.
5. Make Salad Dressing
What is so great about Bellisari’s Gourmet Convenience is you don’t need to actually make a dressing for your pasta salads, you can just add one jar of our products to your salad.
Putting It Together
Place all your ingredients in a much larger bowl than you'll serve the pasta salad in and give everything a good toss. The larger the bowl, the better chance you have of evenly distributing all the bits with the dressing without flinging it all around the kitchen. Some pasta salads need an overnight rest in the fridge to let the flavors meld and blossom, and some can be served right away.
Here is an easy orzo pasta salad that can be made ahead of time for Memorial Day that pairs nicely with Bellisari’s Blue Cheese, Honey & Shallot Spread.
Chilled Orzo & Asparagus Salad
1 Box Orzo
1 Cup Walnut Pieces(Optional)
1/2 lb Thin Asparagus Spears
1 Cup Craisens
Place Walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and bake in preheated 350-degree oven until lightly toasted, 4-5 minutes. Rinse asparagus spears and snap off and discard their tough ends. Break spears into 1 1/2-inch long pieces. Cook Orzo as directed.
During last 3 minutes of Orzo Cooking time add asparagus and cook until bright green and crisp-tender. Add Bellisari's Blue Cheese Honey & Shallot Spread and mix well. Stir in Walnuts and craisens. Chill in refrigerator for at least two hours. Serve chilled.