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How to Make Pasta Salad

Pasta salad is a great little meal – satisfying, economical, versatile and easy to take to work for a healthy lunch.

But what’s the best way to go about putting one together? And what are some really good flavor combinations to try?

Lemon Pasta Salad Photo

The pasta

The main ingredient is – of course – the pasta!

Bite-size pasta – like penne, rotelle, macaroni, fusilli, farfalle – is ideal. It is possible to use larger pasta shapes, but they can be messy and awkward to eat!

Just cook your pasta according to the instructions on the packaging – but stop when the pasta is ever-so-slightly underdone.

Taco Pasta Salad Picture

The reason for this is that underdone pasta will hold its shape much better when it’s tossed with a dressing. This is especially important if it is likely to sit in the dressing for some time. Pasta tends to absorb liquid easily and will turn very mushy if it it completely cooked through from the start.

Don’t rinse your pasta after you’ve drained it – instead, just toss it with a little olive oil and set it aside. Avoid using butter – it will harden as it cools, forming clumps on your pasta.

Tortellini Pasta Salad Image

Pick your proteins

Every balanced meal contains a protein – and the good news is that just about everything works well with pasta!

Here are some ideas – choose just one or combine a few:

  • Strips of cooked chicken breast
  • Canned tuna
  • Shrimp (peeled and cooked)
  • Cheese
  • Cubes of thick-cut ham
  • Canned beans (drained and rinsed)

Bring on the bold flavors!

Most pasta salads are defined by the strongest flavor they contain (feta cheese for a Greek pasta salad, for example).

Taco Pasta Salad Pic

Decide on the ‘theme’ of your salad, then pick from the flavors below. Remember – these are ingredients with a strong taste, so don’t add too much!

Ideas include:

  • Crumbled feta
  • Crumbled goat’s cheese
  • Grated parmesan
  • Chopped olives
  • Crispy bacon
  • Capers
  • Sun-dried tomatoes
  • Smoked fish
  • Serrano ham or Prosciutto

Choose your veggies

Once again you can choose as many of these vegetables as you like!

Taco Pasta Salad Photo

Some vegetables will need cooking first. You can either steam/boil them, or blanch them by adding them to the water when you cook the pasta, just a minute before the end of the cooking time. This gives them a great texture to use in pasta salads!

Pick from:

  • Carrots (grated raw, or chopped and cooked/blanched)
  • Trimmed asparagus
  • Broccoli or cauliflower florets
  • Green beans
  • Zucchini
  • Peas
  • Cucumber
  • Chopped tomato
  • Chopped celery

You can add canned vegetables too – canned sweetcorn brings a little pop of sweetness!

Gluten Free Pasta Salad Picture

Herbs and spices

The addition of finely chopped herbs and certain spices can elevate your pasta salad into something memorable!

Why not try:

  • Scallions
  • Ginger
  • Parsley
  • Basil
  • Cilantro
  • Basil
  • Dill
  • Rosemary
  • Tarragon

Add stronger tasting herbs with caution, so you don’t overwhelm the dish!

Greek Pasta Salad Image

The final steps…

Put your pasta into a large bowl and add all of your chosen ingredients. Mix together thoroughly, then toss with your salad dressing of choice.

And that’s all there is to it – you now have a perfect pasta salad, made just the way you like it!

Looking for a few ‘ready made’ ideas?


Taco Pasta Salad
Greek Pasta Salad
Lemon Pasta Salad