In my mind, a nice classic PASTA SALAD serves one of two scenarios:
- Attending a picnic, potluck, or other end-of-summer-everyone-bring-something type party;
- Addressing the leftover meat, cheese, and vegetables in my fridge by tossing them together into a big bowl with cold pasta and dressing for dinner. Preferably a summer dinner. Or a summer midnight snack. I mean, was there ever really a better midnight snack than cold pasta salad?
That’s it. These are the only places pasta salad exists in my life.
HOW TO MAKE OUR EASY PASTA SALAD (30 SEC):
But they are good and important places, especially that first one about the summer events that require a contribution to a community food table, and especially considering that here we are, at the end of summer! Wow. Time to cry into my pasta salad. How is already the end of summer?
Okay. Let’s clear some things up here. I live in Minnesota, home of the church basement potluck and “salads” made from jello and whipped cream and Snickers bars. I AM ZERO PERCENT KIDDING. I grew up on salads made from candy bars and fake dairy and loved every blessed second of it.
So when I think of pasta salad, even if the first image in my mind is some mayo-loaded retro bomb of deliciousness, I try to guide my mind to a vision of pasta salad that is more elevated. Pinkies-out style. You know, more classic and less mayo-y. A tiny bit retro, maybe, yes, just by default of being a “pasta salad” in our great state of Minnesota, but also something fresh and classic. Not modern – let’s not get too ambitious here. Just a quality classic pasta salad situation that you can be proud to bring to the party.
We’re going to need:
Good, spicy salami. Yummy cheeses. Tomatoes or some other very friendly non-threatening vegetable. Greens of some sort – even if it’s just fresh parsley. Good enough, friends. Good enough. Olives and red onions and a tangy Italian dressing. That you made. That’s right. You made that Italian dressing, you little pasta salad boss, you. ♡
Also, possibly the most important: we need pasta with good solid texture and shape to absorb all the sauce. (DeLallo! It’s our favorite. The semi-rough texture is unrivaled. I get mine at Target or Cub Foods.)
These days I am thoroughly enjoying my pasta salad with WHOLE WHEAT pasta. Nobody even has to know, guys. This can be our pasta secret. It’s so chewy and delicious, and with the ridges on the outside of that penne? Ugh. It’s almost too basic to be good. ALMOST.
This is a face plant moment just waiting to happen.
May I offer one last tidbit of advice? You do not need to wait to be invited to a picnic or potluck to get some pasta salad magic in your life.
This is a weeknight’s dream meal.
Stop at the store on the way home and pick up some good salami and cheese, some olives, and a few fresh herbs. Cook up some pasta, toss it all together, and voila. Cold pasta salad + a glass of rose for dinner, and colder pasta salad as leftovers for lunch all week. I will be over in a flash.
- 1 lb. pasta such as fusilli, penne, or rotini (we use DeLallo whole wheat pasta! so yum.)
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese balls, cut in half
- 1 lb. summer sausage or salami, cut into chunks
- 3 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
- ¾ cup black olives, sliced
- ¼ cup minced fresh parsley
- sliced red onion, crumbled feta cheese, pepperoncini (optional)
- 1½ cups Italian dressing (see notes)
- Cook pasta according to package directions. Allow to cool slightly (and maybe toss with a little oil to prevent sticking).
- Toss all ingredients together! TOLD YOU IT WAS SO EASY. 🙂
- Keep in the fridge for 2-3 days. I think it actually tastes best the day AFTER you make it.
3/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons white vinegar (white vinegar or red wine vinegar work)
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoons coarse sea salt
1-2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon dry oregano
1 teaspoon dry basil
1 clove garlic
black pepper to taste
Whisk or run through the blender to make a creamy, slightly thickened dressing.
For a lower calorie, lower fat, and/or lower sodium version of this salad, scale back on the salami and add a few cups of additional veggies in its place (blanched green beans, fresh spinach, artichokes, red or yellow peppers, etc.).