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.
This post has been updated for 2022
Top Image: BBQ Chicken Ranch Pasta Salad from Half Baked Harvest and Chicken Caesar Salad Pasta from Iowa Girl Eats
Related: How to turn salad into a family-friendly dinner: 5 tips every family cook needs to know.
Bow tie pasta is one of my favorite pasta shapes – it feels like the meal got all dressed up just for me. This Berry Poppyseed Chicken Pasta Salad from The Real Food Dieticians is a refreshing take on pasta salad that you can prep ahead of time and throw together right before serving or heading out the door for your potluck. I love that you can customize it by using whatever fresh berries are available to you. I even threw in some chopped sugar snap peas from my garden and it was perfection.
Related: 6 creative ways to use seasonal summer berries
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 DIY style, which is a wonderful idea for kids and picky eaters, too.
While you can use any short-cut pasta in this BBQ Chicken Ranch Pasta Salad from Half Baked Harvest, Radiatore is my family’s favorite. We think it’s a fun silly shaped pasta that makes a summer dinner feel like a party. This salad is hearty enough to fill my teen son’s belly and one you can serve all the way through the fall. If you can get your hands on fresh summer corn and grill it alongside the chicken it adds so much flavor to this salad. But frozen corn and rotisserie chicken tossed in BBQ sauce work just fine too. I do recommend making Tieghan’s homemade ranch dressing because it is so dang good – but your favorite store-bought brand works great as well.
Related: Be sure you know how long food can be left out before it goes bad
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 Creamy Avocado Pasta Salad from Natasha’s Kitchen looks so appealing, mainly because avocado and corn are the perfect summer fare, making them perfect summer salad ingredients too. Although the recipe calls for frozen corn, 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.
Related: Fast and fresh: 7 corn salads that celebrate the best of summer
I love this recipe for Caprese Pasta Salad from Cookie + Kate because it comes together really quickly and uses up the abundance of tomatoes in my garden late in the summer. And also I love fusilli pasta. This tends to be my go-to summer pasta salad dish for last-minute gatherings, or a quick side dish for whatever is on the grill.
Related: All of the best summer grilling recipes in one place
This Chicken Caesar Salad Pasta from Iowa Girl Eats is my new favorite Caesar Salad. I make this recipe at least twice a month and I can tell you that my husband and kids never complain. It’s so good and so easy (I make it even easier by using a store-bought rotisserie chicken) and really tastes great hot or cold. You can make this vegetarian-friendly by subbing chickpeas for the chicken. 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 its peppery bite makes everything better. Even pizza, I swear.