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Guide to making the best pasta salads (and eight recipes to make them shine)

22 mayo, 2021

Pasta salads have conquered our kitchen repertoire, extending their life even well beyond the summer. We are not going to deny that they have many advantages – they are easy, fast and satisfying – but they are not a wild card in which anything goes. Get one delicious pasta salad it is really very simple, if you keep a few basic principles in mind.

As with the classic country salad, everyone has their tastes and we do not intend to impose fixed canonical rules. But we can review certain keys, tricks and tips for making the best pasta salads and enjoy them all year round, also thinking about going back to school and the office tupperware.

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Interestingly, in Italy it is more common to refer to these dishes as fredda pasta, although it is increasingly possible to read the concept of insalate di pasta. Italians also suffer from high temperatures of the summer and it is not at all strange that the heaviest recipes are changed to cold pasta dishes in summer.

The two concepts are slightly different, especially when we consider what we usually mean by “salad”: a large set of many things mixed together in a salad bowl. The fredda pasta it can simply be a recipe for any variety of pasta with fresh ingredients that lends itself to tasting cold.

Pasta salad

It is also worth noting the difference between ‘pasta salad’ and ‘salad with pasta‘. This second option is more advisable if you are looking for a lighter or more nutritious dish, in which pasta is just one more component of the plate, and not the base. Remember that it is a satisfying and energetic food, but also caloric.

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The type of pasta: dry, short and ribbed

Fresh pasta is delicious but not recommended in a salad. Its different and more delicate texture does not make it appropriate to drink cold, and it would be a shame to waste it on dishes that do not bring out its virtues. For the salads, better to opt for a dry pasta, but that it is of first quality, of durum wheat semolina.

Although in Italy they do not hesitate to use long formats, for our salads it is more advisable to choose between the types of short pasta, on a regular basis and fluted surface, or with nooks, spiral style. They are easier to eat and better pick up the seasoning and flavors.

Pasta salad

The formats easier to find They are penne rigate -feathers or “macaroni”, also in smaller caliber-, rigatoni, maccheroni or elicoidali, conchiglie, pipe – “horns” and fusilli / rotini – “screws” -. In more special ways we can get hold of gigli, casarecce, radiatori, malloreddus or rocchetti. The farfalle or “butterflies / bows” are also suitable, although due to their peculiar shape they will present an irregular texture when cold.

Cooking: ‘al dente’, with care

Overcooking is one of the most common mistakes we make when cooking pasta. The point known as al dente it is essential to preserve a good texture and avoid chewy pastes; the problem is that cold pasta tends to harden.

When hot, it is advisable to remove it a little earlier than even recommended because it will continue cooking with the sauce. In cold dishes, it is advisable to respect the time indicated by the manufacturer to obtain the texture al dente or spend a minute, if we don’t like it too hard. As much as we cool it, we will never cut the cooking instantly.

Rinse it or chill it?

The mortal sin of rinse the pasta under the tap Yes it is allowed in salads, but making sure it is well cold, to cut cooking. Of course, first we will briefly drain it, keeping part of the cooking liquid: it could be very useful to lighten the dressing or sauce. Afterwards, we will dry it with a clean cloth.

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Another option is to spread the cooked and drained pasta on a large tray to cool it, although this step can give us a very bland pasta. A good idea is place it in the bowl or source with a part of the dressing or certain juicy ingredients, which are not crunchy. This will take part of the flavors while it finishes cooling.

The additions: less is more

We repeat one of the maxims that must always be taken into account when making any salad: it is not a mixed bag or the destination of all the leftovers from the fridge. Almost anything is allowed, but with a certain order and consistency.

Pasta salad

Pasta salads seek to be complete dishes, so we are interested include vegetables and protein. If the dish is going to rest for many hours before being eaten, we will choose vegetables that have already been cooked or that hold up well once cut. Green leaves and sprouts, very ripe tomatoes or avocado are not good options here.

In the event that we prepare the salad one or, at most, two hours in advance, we can play with the crunchy contrasts in raw. Cucumber, pepper, julienned cabbage, fennel, carrot, celery, zucchini, seasonal fruits – monitoring ripening – are good options to choose from and vary, choosing two or at most three at the same time.

If we are not sure when we are going to eat it, the cooked vegetables they are the best alternative. We can resort to preparing them grilled or roasted, cooked just right, canned or pickled, which will also add a more powerful flavor. To add a crunchy point we have the seeds and nuts.

Pasta salad

Regarding the protein, we can choose one or two, as long as they fit together: tuna belly or bonito, some smoked, egg, sardines or mackerel, anchovies or anchovies, grilled or roasted chicken, pickled partridge, tofu, edamame or chickpeas, etc.

The fresh cheeses like the classic mozzarella, Burgos cheese or feta also fit well, and we can marinate them previously. Grated cured meats such as Parmesan or a Manchego will add much more flavor, and can be mixed with the dressing.

Dressings and sauces, in moderation

A salad without dressing is sadder than a day without bread, but you shouldn’t go too far. Many italians they would put their hands on their heads seeing us mix the pasta with Mayonnaise, but being permissive, we could prepare a light dressing by adding a small amount of the caloric seasoning. After all, we are not making pasta salad.

Good extra virgin olive oil, a little touch of quality vinegar and little else is what a tasty pasta salad needs. If we want to give it more force we could make a vinaigrette with mustard, some plain yogurt, or a little Worcestershire / Perrins sauce. The cooking water of the pasta will help us to bind and lighten the mixture.

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Much more aroma and flavor we will achieve with lemon zest and juice, anchovy paste, sun-dried tomatoes in oil, a little pesto, pickles or plenty of aromatic herbs. Spices are also highly recommended if we don’t have the fresh version on hand, always in moderation.


The pasta is very grateful for the rest with its dressing and other ingredients to absorb the flavors but, again, no more than two hours. We can always resort to taking the vinaigrette with us in a separate container to avoid spoiling it too far in advance.

The tasting should be fresh but not straight out of the fridge, no matter how hot it is. Excessive cold hides the flavors and also modifies the textures, so you always have to remember to let the salad warm up a bit before serving and eating.

Pasta in Salad

Ideally, we can taste it directly without having to cut or prepare anything else, directly in our tupperware or serving in plates or bowls from the salad bowl. So helps that the ingredients are properly cut, with a similar size, and in line with the pasta format.

Finally, we should not accompany pasta salads with bread, although we can add croutons or croutons. To push the ingredients, it is preferable to use the knife. And if sauce has been left on the plate to “scrape”, it will be a sign that we have overdone the dressing.

Eight pasta salad recipes to put into practice

1. Tortellini salad with creamy yogurt dressing


Cook the tortellini in plenty of salty water following the instructions on the package to leave it well al dente, and drain very gently, rinsing it with cold water, so as not to break them. Keep part of the cooking water and add a little olive oil to the pasta and spread on a tray while we finish the rest of the ingredients. Wash and dry the vegetables; discard stems, seeds and possible damaged parts and chop everything into small cubes, cutting the tomatoes into quarters. Cut the drained olives, pitted, into slices, and chop the fresh herbs previously washed and dried. Add to the cold tortellini in a large bowl. Mix the yogurt separately with the crumbled goat cheese, lemon, granulated garlic, mayonnaise and vinegar. Season and mix. Add a little water to the pasta if it is too thick, or a drizzle of olive oil. Continue mixing and testing until you find the desired point. Pour over the pasta with the vegetables and mix gently. If we think that an ingredient is missing, add whatever we want to taste. Keep in mind that after resting in the fridge the sauce will lose fluidity, so we are interested in not running out of seasoning. Keep cold until serving time.

Complete recipe | Tortellini salad with creamy yogurt dressing

2. Fusilli salad with mozzarella and tuna

Pasta Fussilli Salad
  • Ingredients for 2 people: 160 g of fusilli, 1 can of tuna, 125g of buffalo mozzarella, 12 cherry tomatoes, 8 basil leaves, 16 pitted black olives, 1 clove of garlic, oil and salt.

  • Elaboration: In a pot with boiling salted water, cook the pasta according to the time indicated on the package. We drain, wash with cold water and reserve. On the other hand, we cut the cherry tomatoes in half. We also prepare a mash with the minced garlic clove, the basil leaves, a drizzle of olive oil and salt. We mix this mash with the pasta and the cherry tomatoes. Finally, we serve the salad with the diced mozzarella, tuna and black olives.

Complete recipe | Fusilli salad with mozzarella and …