Chef's Hat: Jazz up that ever popular pasta salad


Some foods have a long and interesting history. Others – not so much.

While looking for the origins of the pasta salad, there was not much to be found. A few websites indicated the earliest recipe for a pasta salad was published in 1962, and at that time it was simply elbow macaroni and a bit of mayonnaise. Pasta salads gained in popularity in the 1980s, and a prepackaged, ready-to-prepare mix showed up on store shelves.

While looking for a way to jazz up a plain pasta salad, I came across recipes that had ingredients that varied from strawberries to fresh crab to avocados. Some salads were quite simple to prepare while others got quite complex and required carefully blending ingredients in a food processor.

But, in general, most pasta salads are quite easy and quick to make. There are a few things to keep in mind that will help make your salad a smashing success.

One, do not overcook your pasta. You actually want to undercook it just a bit – the pasta should be cooked al dente, which means the pasta should be tender, but still a bit firm when bitten.


Second, when the pasta has finished cooking, rinse it in cold water to stop the cooking process.

Third, choose your pasta carefully and spend those few extra pennies to get one that is of good quality and will hold up during the cooking process. The last thing you want in these salads is mushy pasta.

And, last but not least, most pasta salads should be put in the refrigerator for an hour or two before serving to let the flavors meld together.

The simplest way to make a pasta salad is to cook your favorite pasta (bow ties, macaroni or spirals – not spaghetti or angel hair noodles), add some diced vegetables and top with an Italian dressing or a vinaigrette.

But why stop there? A couple spoonfuls of fresh herbs, such as basil, thyme or oregano, will add a pop of freshness to your salad. Fruits, fresh or canned, will appeal to even the pickiest eaters. Add a bit of chicken, crab, tuna or pepperoni and a chunk of crusty bread and dinner will be on the table in no time.

For a tempting side or a delicious main dish you can’t go wrong with a refreshing pasta salad. Customize your salad to your own liking by throwing in your family’s favorite fruits or vegetables. You can’t go wrong with a refreshing salad on a hot summer day. Happy Eating!

Basic Pasta Salad

  • 8 ounces dry penne or bow tie pasta
  • ½ cup red onion, finely diced
  • 1 green or red pepper, diced
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup radishes, sliced
  • ½ cup cucumbers, diced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh herbs, such as basil, thyme or oregano



  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Cook pasta until just tender, but still a bit firm. Drain and run under cold water to stop cooking. Drain thoroughly.
Combine all dressing ingredients, except salt and pepper, in a measuring cup or small bowl. Mix until thoroughly combined. Taste; add a small amount of salt and pepper. Taste again. If desired add additional salt and pepper.

Combine pasta and vegetables in a large bowl. Toss to combine. Sprinkle the fresh herbs on top of the pasta. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and lightly mix. Place in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours before serving.

Pasta & Crab Salad

Adapted from

  • ½ pound bow tie pasta
  • ½ pound crab meat (real or imitation) cut into bite size pieces
  • ½ cup green olives, sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, finely diced
  • ½ cup cucumbers, thinly sliced
  • 3 to 4 green onions, sliced thin


  • ¾ cup plain nonfat yogurt (do not use Greek yogurt)
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • ½ tablespoon soy sauce
  • ¼ cup Italian dressing

Cook pasta just until tender, but so it is still slightly firm. Drain, rinse with cold water and drain thoroughly.
In a large bowl, mix the pasta, crab, olives, pepper, cucumbers and onions.

In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, mayonnaise, Old Bay, celery salt, mustard, soy sauce and salad dressing. Mix until well blended.

Pour the dressing over the pasta and vegetables and stir to combine. Refrigerate at least two hours before serving.


Chicken & Mandarin Orange Pasta Salad

Adapted from

Cut recipe in half to make a smaller amount of salad

  • 1 1-pound box of penne pasta
  • 1 can pineapple tidbits, drained
  • 1 can mandarin oranges, drained
  • 1 1/2 cups halved seedless grapes
  • 1 cup sliced celery, thinly sliced
  • 3 chicken breasts, smoked, grilled or use leftover rotisserie chicken
  • Half of a 16-ounce bottle of coleslaw dressing
  • Salt and pepper

Note: Chicken can be cooked ahead of time.
Cook pasta until al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water, and drain again.

Place the pasta in a large bowl. Add the fruit, celery and chicken and lightly toss.

Pour the dressing over the top and stir until well combined. Taste; if desired add a small amount of salt and pepper. Place in refrigerator for at least an hour before serving.

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