Mix & Match Pasta Salad

Even though school and fall are right around the corner, there’s still time for a few more picnics and bbq’s. Pasta salad is one of those side dishes that’s a must for these occasions. It’s simple to make and very popular.

But for me the “simple” part doesn’t come till I figure out what I’m putting in the pasta salad. And I have to admit, I never make pasta salads from scratch for that reason. The mix-ins and the dressing are the hardest parts for me. Then Food Network Magazine did a whole section about pasta salads and a guide to making the perfect one. And I’m happy to say I’ve been converted to making pasta salads from scratch! This recipe leads to thousands of combinations!

You’re just 5 steps away from making the perfect pasta salad!

Step 1:
Choose a Pasta

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook 1/2 pound of any of these pastas (minus the long pastas) as the label directs; drain and rinse under cold water. Transfer to a large bowl.

Not pictured above that also work great: elbows, rigatoni (small ones) and tortellini

Step 2:
Pick a Protein (optional)

Add 1 cup of any of these ingredients, if desired:

  • Chicken, cooked and chopped
  • Steak, cooked and chopped
  • Ham or salami, cubed
  • Roast beef, chopped
  • Canned tuna, drained and flaked
  • Lump crab meat, picked over
  • Shrimp, cooked and chopped
  • Eggs, hard-boiled and chopped
  • Baked tofu, chopped

Step 3:
Pick Your Vegetables

Add 2 of these vegetables or beans, 1 cup each. (To blanch veggies, boil until crisp-tender, then drain and cool in ice water.)

  • Broccoli florets, blanched
  • Corn kernels, blanched
  • Carrots, shredded
  • Chery tomatoes, halved
  • Green beans, blanched and chopped
  • Frozen peas or snap peas, blanched
  • Celery, sliced
  • Cucumber, diced
  • Red onion, diced
  • Bell pepper, diced
  • Asparagus, blanched and chopped
  • Canned chickpeas or white beans, drained and rinsed

Step 4:
Pick a Mix-In

Add 1/2 cup of any of these ingredients:

  • Sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • Roasted red peppers, chopped
  • Olives, pitted and chopped
  • Any cheese, shredded or crumbled
  • Any nut, toasted and chopped
  • Bacon, cooked and crumbled

Step 5:
Dress the Salad

Make one of these dressings, then pour over the pasta salad and toss. Season with salt and pepper. Chill for up to 3 hours.


  • Whisk 1/3 c. olive oil, 2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar, 1 minced shallot, 1/2 tsp salt, and pepper to taste.

Creamy Herb

  • Whisk 1/3 c. mayo, 3 Tbsp. sour cream, 1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice, 1/2 c. chopped mixed herbs, and salt and pepper to taste.

Garlic Oil

  • Cook 3 thinly sliced garlic cloves and a pinch of red pepper flakes in 1/3 c. olive oil over medium heat, stirring, 3 minutes; let cool. Season with salt and pepper.

Creamy Parmesan

  • Mix 1/4 c. each mayo and sour cream, 1 Tbsp. lemon juice, 1/4 tsp. finely grated garlic, 3/4 c. grated Parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste.


  1. says

    This would make a great guide in the kitchen.My family loves cooking pasta dishes,thank you for sharing this 🙂

  2. says

    Hi, wonderful blog you have posted here. This is my first comment about the recipes blogs; I like to be a chef and just joined an institute. I found these blogs’ very helpful in my career.. Thanks for bringing up and take out your time in writing this.

    Bbq Salads

  3. says

    Thank you for posting this!! I had the FN magazine that this was featured in, but I have since lost it, and the FN website doesn’t have the full article posted anymore. I don’t make pasta salad much, but having this guide has been so helpful when I do make it.