Sizzling summer temperatures can discourage any cook from heating up the oven to make a meal. If you’re looking for an cooler alternative, consider pasta salad.
Pasta salads are easy and forgiving to make. Choose a noodle, a dressing and some vegetables and you’re on your way.
Of course, there are decisions to make: Meat or no meat? Oil- or mayonnaise-based dressing? What noodle shape? Do you add cheese? If so, what kind?
These choices come down to a matter of personal taste, dietary restrictions and what’s available.
I love Asian salads with crushed peanuts, fresh basil and herbs, and lots of crunchy, colorful veggies.
I usually reach for soba noodles but I made a gluten-free version recently with rice noodles.
To further change up my usual recipe, I dressed it with sesame and avocado oil, then seasoned the salad with citrus ponzu sauce, a sesame rice vinegar and a squeeze of lime juice and Kosher salt. I loved this new light, fresh version — topped off with crushed cashews instead of peanuts.
For a quick Asian-noodle salad hack, you can skip the oils and vinegars and drizzle on some store-bought Asian sesame salad dressing instead (find it in the refrigerated section of the grocery store).
Another newcomer to my pasta salad repertoire is the BLT-inspired pasta salad. I used a good-quality hardwood smoked bacon, a mayonnaise-based dressing and chopped kale for the “L” in BLT.
Lettuce typically wilts within a few hours of dressing the salad, but kale is a heartier, tougher green so if there’s leftovers you can enjoy them the next day. Blue cheese crumbles gives the salad a gourmet vibe.
For a hearty and nutritious oil-based pasta salad, you can’t go wrong with an antipasto-inspired pasta salad.
I made one with my favorite olives (Castelvetrano) and salami. I also added fresh mini mozzarella balls along with capers, pepperoncini, grated parmesan, fresh tomatoes and fresh basil.
A simple avocado or oil dressing with a little lemon juice, red wine vinegar (you could also use balsamic) lemon juice, salt and cracked pepper adds a little zest.
If you don’t feel like whipping up your own dressing, use a store-bought dressing like Bragg’s Organic Vinaigrette Dressing. The combination of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, honey and other organic seasonings add zing to an antipasto pasta salad.
Antipasto-Inspired Pasta Salad
1 pound regular or gluten-free penne pasta, cooked and cooled
1 cup olives, pitted, such as Castelvetrano
1/4 cup capers
3/4 cup artichoke hearts
4-ounce package salami
8-ounce package mozzarella pearls
1 1/2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/4 cup diced shallot
1/2 cup avocado or olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup red wine or white balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon cane sugar
Add the pasta, olives, artichoke hearts, salami, mozzarella, tomatoes, capers and basil to a bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the shallot, olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, salt, pepper and sugar.
Add the oil and vinegar mixture to the pasta and stir well to combine. Garnish with Parmesan before serving.
Season with additional salt and pepper to suit your taste.
Asian Rice Noodle Salad
16-ounce package rice noodles, cooked and cooled
1 1/2 cups Napa cabbage, shredded
3/4 cup purple cabbage, shredded
2 large carrots, peeled and shredded
1 cup broccoli florets, blanched and cooled
1/4 cup green onions, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/2 cup cashews, chopped
3 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
2 tablespoons citrus ponzu sauce
1 tablespoon sesame rice vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped
Add the rice noodles to a large bowl and drizzle with the sesame oil and avocado or olive oil. Toss well to coat.
Add the Napa cabbage, purple cabbage, carrots, broccoli, green onions, Kosher salt and sesame seeds and mix to combine, then drizzle with the ponzu sauce and rice vinegar and mix well.
Before serving, stir in desired amount of mint, basil and cashew to each serving. Adjust seasoning to taste.
BLT-Inspired Pasta Salad
1 pound pasta noodles, such as macaroni, cooked and drained
1 pound bacon, cooked and chopped
1 pound cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
2 cups chopped kale
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 cup blue cheese crumbles, plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
Add the macaroni, bacon, tomatoes and kale to a large bowl and mix together. In a separate bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, avocado or olive oil, pepper, garlic powder, Worcestershire sauce and Kosher salt.
Stir in the blue cheese.
Add the dressing to the pasta salad and stir to combine.
Garnish with additional blue cheese before serving, if desired.