I’ve been on the hunt for some fresh new summer pasta salads to make, ever since last summer, when I took a pasta salad to a friend’s annual summer barbecue and no one ate it. I admit I was hurt. I mean, didn’t anyone appreciate how long it had taken me to mix some pasta with a can of sliced olives and cherry tomatoes and toss it with some bottled dressing?
As I left and hissed, “I’m never making pasta salad again,” I swear I heard people actually clapping.
I realized that everyone gets tired of the same old pasta salads that keep showing up at parties — penne and veggies doused with Italian dressing have worn out their welcome, and It’s time to teach an old dog (or home cook) some new tricks.
Here are some ideas for pasta salad recipes that have surprising flavors, use a few different pasta shapes and boast lots of fresh ingredients. There are vegetarian and vegan versions, and they’re even easy to make gluten-free.
Top: Avocado-Pesto Pasta Salad | Delish
If there was ever a trendy pasta, Israeli couscous (also called pearl couscous or ptitim) would be it. I’m seeing it all over menus these days, and for good reason: its texture and shape, which lie somewhere between pasta and rice, makes it a nice addition to all of those bowls you’re seeing everywhere.
This Mint Infused Pearl Couscous Salad from Food Heaven Made Easy combines Israeli couscous with chickpeas, vegetables and mint for a refreshing take on a pasta salad, and the protein from the chickpeas makes it a good vegetarian option that’s more filling than most. She’s got some great, specific tips on her site to make the couscous come out perfect.
I guarantee that Recipe Tin Eats’ Vietnamese Noodle Salad With Shrimp will be the “pasta” salad that everyone talks about after the picnic or potluck is over. Rice vermicelli noodles are a brilliant stand-in for traditional pasta (and some are gluten-free) and the combination of shrimp, garlic, chiles, lime and mint will be a refreshing change from the usual salad fare. I love Nagi’s suggestion of putting all of the ingredients out separately and letting each guest create their own dish, which is a wonderful idea for kids and picky eaters, too.
This Farmers’ Market Pappardelle from Epicurious is so gorgeous I’m predicting it’ll be all over everyone’s Instagram after the party. I’ve never thought of using thick egg noodles in a pasta salad, but just look at it! Combined with equally long, flat zucchini ribbons and plenty of fresh veggies, it not only amps up the nutritional value, but it seems a clever way to make pasta salad more appealing to kids who would enjoy a big plate of crazy colorful spaghetti. (So look for this one on your tween’s IG story, too.) Be sure to click over to read the user reviews as well — some commenters offer their own tips and tricks to get the recipe just right.
Let me start off by saying I’m usually not a fruit-in-my-salad-kind of person. Nothing ruins my meal like finding an orange slice lurking amongst the greens. But I’ve had Sarah’s Basil Mint Pesto Pasta Salad with Tomatoes and Strawberries from her blog, The Woks Of Life, and it’s so, so very good. The saltiness of the walnuts, pesto and sun-dried tomatoes balance out the sweetness of the strawberries perfectly, and the ridged rigatoni is the perfect pasta to hold it all together. (Note: I tried making this with pomegranate seeds instead of strawberries and it wasn’t nearly as good, so stick with the strawberries.)
This Avocado-Pesto Pasta Salad with Fresh Corn from Judy Kim for Delish looks so appealing, mainly because there aren’t nearly enough recipes using orecchiette (“little ears”) pasta. But also because avocado and corn are the perfect summer fare, making them perfect summer salad ingredients too. Although the recipe calls for corn that is cooked in the pasta water, If you’re grilling, consider adding your corn on the grill with all of your other barbecue grub to give the flavor a little more pop. Either way, the key to perfecting this recipe is to use fresh, and not frozen corn, so get the kids ready to shuck a few ears.
I love this recipe for Bow-Tie Pasta Salad With No-Cook Tomato Sauce from Food52 because it’s really two dishes in one: First you make the tomato sauce with tomatoes, garlic and lemon (the no-cook part means not standing over a hot stove on a sweltering summer day). Second, you mix that up with some farfalle (bowtie) pasta, fresh mozzarella and pine nuts. Plus, you end up with all that delicious homemade tomato sauce that you can use on all of your other pasta dishes all week. I have a feeling this is going to be my new go-to summer pasta salad dish for the season.
This Lemon Chicken Pasta from Iowa Girl Eats is not really a pasta salad, but I make this recipe at least twice a month and I can tell you that my husband and kids eat it cold right out of the fridge, so I’m calling it a salad. It’s so good, so healthy and so easy (I make it even easier by using a store-bought rotisserie chicken) and really tastes great hot or cold. I usually add some red pepper flakes and pine nuts to her recipe, and you can easily omit the chicken for a vegetarian version. Tip: If you’re taking this pasta salad to a party, make sure you cook a batch for yourself – you’re going to want it for eating straight out of the fridge later.
I’m very fond of arugula. So fond of it, that I put it in almost all of my salads and on top of my pizza. (Hey, don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it!) This Tomato and Arugula Balsamic Pasta Salad from A Saucy Kitchen is simple, clean and also made here with gluten-free pasta. Don’t shy away from putting greens in any summer pasta salad because you’re afraid of it wilting – arugula holds up nicely, and and its peppery bite makes everything better. Even pizza, I swear.