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Pasta salad mistakes to avoid
July 22, 2015, 4:25 pm

There is something about summer that makes eating pasta salad even more wonderful. Filled with squiggly noodles, flavorful dressing, a medley of vegetables, and sometimes meat and cheese, this side dish is a mainstay of summer picnics and backyard get-togethers. Before whipping up a bowl for your next event, be sure you are not making any of these pasta salad mistakes.

Not using the right size and shape of pasta:  When it comes to picking pasta for your salad, the type, size and shape of pasta makes a difference. It is best to stay away from fresh pasta, which does not hold up quite as well. Also, while linguine and spaghetti are delicious, pasta salad is not the dish to use them in.

For a truly standout pasta salad, stick with dried pasta instead of fresh, it can be served chilled or at room temperature, and holds up well when tossed with dressing and other ingredients. Also, short pasta shapes, with plenty of nooks and crannies — like fusilli, farfalle, rotini, and penne — are ideal choices for pasta salad. Their small size makes them easy to serve and eat, and their little folds and pockets provide plenty of spaces to trap dressing, herbs, and small ingredients.

Overcooking or undercooking the pasta: Pasta is the star of this dish, so it is important to make sure it is cooked just right. Leave it on the stove too long and you will find yourself with mushy pasta; take it off too soon, and the noodles are too tough.

An important thing to remember about pasta is that it hardens and gets chewy as it cools. Since it is not being served hot or with sauce, the pasta benefits from an extra minute of cooking, but do not let it get mushy.

For a well-cooked pasta salad, plan to cook the pasta until just past al dente. Adding an extra minute or so of cook time will keep the pasta soft while it cools.

Seasoning the pasta late: Unlike warm meals, the flavors in cold dishes can be more muted and require a little more seasoning. The last thing you want is a bland pasta salad.

To make sure your pasta salad is well-seasoned and flavorful, it is best to start seasoning early, and you should start right out of the gate when you are cooking the pasta. Use extra-salted water and the pasta will be well-seasoned by the time it is cooked. Be sure to taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary as you add the dressing and other ingredients.

Adding dressing just before serving: There is no reason to wait until the pasta is completely cooled to add the dressing. In fact, if you do, you are missing out on an even more flavorful pasta salad. Toss the pasta with about two-thirds of the dressing while it is still warm, and add the remainder before serving. The warm pasta will absorb the dressing a lot easier, creating a pasta salad that is well-seasoned and full of flavor.

Making it too early: You may love getting a jump start on meal preparations, but if you make this dish too far in advance, you end up with a bowl of soggy pasta salad. While it will stay good for a couple days, it is best to make pasta salad the day of or the day before you plan to eat it.

Pasta salads are infinitely flexible, delicious, and ready to be dressed up. When you get a crush on a cheese or a vegetable the pasta salad plays impresario, showing off its charms. A handful of dried fruit, toasted pecans, three cruciferous vegetables, and a gilding of bacon, and pretty soon we are in the third ring of a salad circus.

Now that you have the tips, how about trying this tasty pasta salad recipe that makes for a wonderful lunch.

Roasted garlic, olive and tomato pasta salad


3 small heads garlic
Olive oil
450g medium pasta shells
450g whole or skim milk ricotta
3/4 cup whole milk yogurt
1 1/4 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 small tomatoes, roughly diced
1 cup black or green olives, sliced
1/3 cup firmly packed cup fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced


Heat the oven to 200°C. Slice the tops off the garlic heads. Drizzle with olive oil and place in the center of a large square of foil and fold to seal. Place the packet in a baking pan and roast for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the garlic is very soft. Remove, and let cool.

Cook the pasta according to directions. Drain and remove to a large bowl. Toss with a little olive oil, and let cool while making the dressing. Whisk the ricotta and yogurt together until lightened and smooth, and add in all of the roasted garlic by squeezing the soft garlic out of each clove. Whisk vigorously, until the garlic is well-incorporated. Whisk in the salt and season generously with black pepper.

Pour the ricotta mixture over the pasta and add the tomatoes, olives, and basil. Toss to coat. Taste and season further if needed with salt and pepper.

Serve slightly warm or chilled. The texture is best when served immediately, but the garlic flavor improves overnight, so either way you enjoy a hearty pasta salad. 

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