Picnic-Perfect Pasta Salads

In Season, Recipes, Spring
on March 22, 2012
Mark Boughton/ styling: Teresa Blackburn


If there was a single dish to represent springtime picnicking, gingham blankets and table settings of Tupperware and plastic cutlery—pasta salad would be it. Why? Well aside from its incomparable fresher-than-spring flavor, a good pasta salad features a medley of crunchy garden veggies and travels exceptionally well via wicker basket. This season create a stellar toss by sticking to our top-notch pasta salad tips:
  • Pasta Possibilities: Although most any noodles will work in a pasta salad, we suggest using conchiglie (small pasta shells) or fusilli (spiral shaped pasta). Both of these varieties tend to adhere better to ingredients because of their complex shapes. When cooking, be sure remove noodles from the boil when they are still very al dente. If you fail to do this, pasta will become mushy and even tear after tossing in your dressing and sturdy ingredients.
  • Choose Your Key Additives Wisely: Just like warm pasta primavera, pasta salad can feature just about any and all vegetables, herbs and or meats. When making your selection, think about what’s in season and colorful. Theme your toss as you would a meal with a trio of complementary flavors—try olives, feta and tomato for a Greek take or perhaps Parmesan, peppers and pepperoni for something Italian. Just remember to taste as you toss—it is the only way you’ll get the flavors right.
  • Be Smart With Dressings: There are two chief dressing families on the pasta salad front—cream based and oily vinaigrette. Creamy dressings are usually mayonnaise based while vinaigrettes rely heavily on extra-virgin olive oil and tangy vinegars. Simply go with your gut and choose the dressing you think compliments your chosen vegetables best. And a word to the wise—simplicity is oftentimes best to allow the ingredients shine (a la a touch of olive oil with a dusting of chopped garlic and sprinkling of salt and pepper).
If you need a little inspiration for creating your signature recipe, check out our favorite pasta salad (and perfectly packable) recipes below.
 —By Emily Arno