Cooking School

6 steps to perfect pasta salad

Photography by Joe Kim/TC Media Author: Canadian Living Credits: Photography by Joe Kim/TC Media

Cooking School

6 steps to perfect pasta salad

Nothing beats pasta salad in summer. It's the perfect portable picnic dish, everyone loves it and it cooks quickly, keeping the heat out of the kitchen when you really need it.

But nothing is worse than a dry, mushy or bland salad. Follow these 6 simple steps for perfect pasta salad every time. You'll be the star of the summer!

1. Pick your shape. Fresh, summer pasta salads are the best place to showcase fun, quirky pasta shapes like wagon wheels, bow ties, scoobi doo (cavatappi) or small shells. The ideal pasta is short, small and has lots of nooks and crannies to hold the dressing and the additional ingredients, like meat, cheese or veggies.

2. Cook your pasta properly. Too hard and the salad is chewy and gets stuck in your teeth, too soft and the pasta turns to mush as it sits.

3. Drain, rinse and drain again. Best pasta practices say to never rinse your pasta. However, in the case of pasta salad rinsing is essential – use cold water. This stops the cooking process by cooling it quickly and getting rid of residual heat. Drain well after rinsing.

4. Texture, texture, texture. The additional ingredients are what really make pasta salads shine.
Choose 3 or 4 ingredients to add-in. These could be blanched or raw veggies, cubed or shredded cheese, diced or sliced meats, pickled veggies (you name it and it likely goes well in pasta salad). Choose contrasting textures to get a blend of chewy, crunchy, crispy and soft in each bite. For easiest eatability try to cut all ingredients in the salad into about the same size, and one that's easy to pick up with a fork and fit into your mouth. Your guests will thank you!

5. Let it mellow. Once dressed, let your salad sit for at least one hour (or refrigerate for up to 24 hours) before tucking in. This gives the dressing a chance to soak into the pasta and for all the flavours to really combine. If it's sitting for 24 hours, you might want to toss it with a bit of fresh dressing just before serving. Either save some dressing for this purpose, or stir in a splash of oil and vinegar or a dollop of mayonnaise to refresh it.

6. Add fresh herbs. Add a handful of chopped fresh herbs just before serving to bring a taste of summer and a splash for fresh colour to your salad. Choose soft herbs, like chives, parsley, basil, mint or cilantro.

Serve up this delicious Lemony Red Pepper and Asparagus Pasta Salad at your next potluck gathering.

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Cooking School

6 steps to perfect pasta salad

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