Is there anything better for a summer dinner than a pasta salad?
It’s one of my favorite side dishes for summer cookouts. I make the pasta salad early and put it in the fridge. This allows the flavors to marinade.
And it’s great for a gathering! I try to make meals for others where I can make as much ahead of time as possible. Then I’m not scrambling to get dinner ready as people show up. And I can do the dishes ahead of time for easier clean up. It’s a winner!
This versatile pasta salad recipe comes from my mother-in-law. We made it quite often a few summers ago. Each time it’s a little bit different. I love that we can switch things out based on what we have on hand or the main dish.
Here’s how to plan out your perfect pasta salad . . .
Start off with a pasta.
We’ve used several types of pastas. Bow tie is a really good option. We’ve also used rigatoni. Fusilli is my favorite to use for pasta salad! It picks up the dressing really well.
Some people like macaroni noodles. It’s not my favorite for a pasta salad but a good option if you love them.
Add in some protein.
Imitation crab is the original for ours and is often our go-to. But you could use pretty much anything: chicken, cubed ham or turkey, or even tuna.
If you’re vegetarian you could use an alternative protein. We’ve used garbanzo beans. White beans or black beans could work as well.
Now let’s add something healthy to that dish!
This is where you can REALLY get creative. We’ve done a variety of things in this category. Mix and match based on your preferences and what you’re making for your main dish. Here are some veggie options for your pasta salad:
- roasted red peppers
- bell pepper
- shredded carrots
- cherry tomatoes
- artichoke hearts
- roasted or steamed asparagus (one of my favorites!)
- roasted or steamed green beans
Finish your pasta salad off with a dressing.
We usually use a balsamic dressing to top it all off. My favorite is this homemade balsamic dressing recipe by My Life as a Mrs. It’s rich and creamy with a tang that is so satisfying– my go-to dressing for any salad. The perfect complement to all the flavors you’ll be throwing in. You could also use an Italian or Greek dressing. Those are delicious as well.
Once you toss everything together, cover it with plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge for an hour or more. Pull it out right before eating and enjoy!