A classic pasta salad enjoyed al fresco is a thing of beauty but there’s much to be said for a spot of culinary innovation. Let your creativity take centre stage with these 9 tips to zhuzh up a pasta salad:
Select a flavour theme
Turn the best elements of your favourite meal into a pasta salad. Make Cheeseburger Pasta Salad, with mayo, minced beef, diced pickles and cheese, or Pizza Pasta Salad with marinara, baby mozzarella balls, pepperoni and basil. Try using smoked cheese and Polish sausage for an Eastern European flavour or cabbage slaw and a soy marinade for an Oriental feel.
Vamp up your vegetables
Fresh vegetables, like julienned red peppers, add brightness to pasta salads but chargrilling them first bumps up the flavour massively. Slices of purple aubergine and courgettes and perfect for this. Blackened and blistered peppers lend a smokiness too (just remove any charred bits first). Ribbons of cucumber, grated carrots or pickled vegetables maximise on texture and taste as well.
Ditch dreary dressings
Mayo is magnificent but nutty, spicy and sweet dressings are just as yummy folded into abundant bowlfuls of penne, orzo, gemelli, cavatappi and orecchiette. Try a zesty peanut lime dressing or a sesame soy for a lighter pasta salad with a difference. For a powerful, creamy dressing, explore using ripe avocados, blended cashews, heaps of garlic and salty anchovies. A spritz of fresh lemon mixed through before serving is better for lifting flavours than vinegar, which can leave a harsh aftertaste.
Dress it twice and season well
Pasta salad naturally soaks up dressing as it sits – keep half of the dressing back and pour it over just before serving to remedy a claggy, dry texture. Season your salad at every stage because seasonings taste milder once food has cooled. Dried herbs, garlic powder and smoked paprika are champions for boosting flavour.
Try a tarka
Add some drama to your pasta salad prep by pouring over a sizzling tarka at the last minute. Fry aromatics like garlic, onions, chilli flakes and dry spices in a little oil before drizzling over your pasta to enliven it.
Yielding, mild-flavoured pasta salads are deliciously comforting but a little touch of texture is where the fun’s at. Stud your salad with sesame seeds, crunchy cashews and peanuts to add interest. A dusting of parmesan or pecorino is great for amping up umami-ness and thin slices of piquant jalapeños lend heat and vibrancy. Wedges of jammy egg, a sprinkle of sumac or pul biber bring colour and visual appeal.
Go rogue and switch to noodles
Soba noodles, vermicelli and egg noodles are fun substitutes for pasta. Just dress them well to prevent clumping.
Drizzle it up
Dress up your pasta salad with a drizzle of sweet chilli, fragrant pomegranate molasses, tart tamarind, honey or maple syrup. Tangy, sweet glazes and chunks of fruit are scrumptious when paired with salty ingredients, like feta cheese.