Summer is officially here and while we don’t need the
TikTok algorithm to tell us to eat pasta salad this season, many have already happily entered their carb-filled culinary era and are sharing their cooking inspiration online.
Summer pasta salad has consumed social media feeds, with recipes from full-time food creators to home cooks and healthy fitness influencers alike.
The search term “summer pasta salad” has garnered over 250 million views on TikTok alone, with hundreds of already-viral recipe videos.
Their endlessly customizable and crave-able recipes can easily be made to specific dietary needs and serve as a side, a snack or a standalone meal perfect for poolside hangs, park hopping and pretty much anywhere in between.
Even just seeing an oversized wooden bowl of perfectly cooked, chilled bow tie pasta tossed together with crisp, chopped veggies and a homemade zesty dressing evokes a nostalgic memory of a simpler time, when the biggest worry of the day was how quickly your food would digest so you could hop back in the water without fear of getting a cramp.
“Summer cooking is all about do-ahead picnic and barbecue fare, and pasta salad is perfect for these occasions,” pasta chef Thomas McNaughton of San Francisco hotspot Flour + Water told “GMA.” “The versatility of pasta salad really primes it to be the star of the summer.”
A big batch of pasta salad not only makes life easier when you’d so much rather be outside than stuck cooking in a kitchen, but it actually improves, in most cases, when it spends some extra hours chilling in an airtight container in the fridge. The noodles and other ingredients — veggies, herbs, cold cuts, cheese or sauces — have a chance to mingle, drawing out and absorbing a delicious amalgamation of flavors.
It’s Pasta Salad Summer on TikTok… with more variations than ever
“Home cooks are across-the-board excited about reinventing classic dishes with new influences and ingredients,” McNaughton said.
As we’ve seen on social media, pasta salad is no longer just a bowl of tri-color fusilli with olives, cold cuts, cheese and bottled Italian dressing. The new wave of pasta salads are full of all-star ingredients and flavor combinations, such as burrata with tomatoes, peaches and basil, or cheese tortellini with homemade pesto, sundried tomatoes and garlic confit.
“Pasta salad offers a template for home cooks to flex their creativity to incorporate pantry staples and fresh seasonal ingredients, to craft something with whatever is readily available to them,” McNaughton said.
Texture is another key component for a dish that can feel a bit one-note when it gets soggy, if not assembled properly. For example, orzo salad, which makes the rice-sized pasta the star, needs a bit of toothsome bite to elevate the smaller shape. Finely diced red onion can benefit best from sitting in an ice water bath for a few minutes while you prep other ingredients, before draining those off and adding it to the bowl to ensure a great crunch that also helps cut down on its potency.
Check out additional expert tips from two of San Francisco’s beloved pasta chefs on how to elevate any homemade pasta salad, under the recipes section below.
Summer Pasta Salad Recipes
Pelosi Family Pasta Salad
Social media’s star recipe developer and “Let’s Eat” cookbook author Dan “Grossy” Pelosi shared an elevated take on his family’s traditional Italian flag-inspired
tri-color pasta salad with “GMA,” which uses more meat and a fresh, homemade garlicky oregano dressing.
12-ounce box tricolor rotini
1 tablespoon olive oil
10 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise
6-ounce can black olives, strained and chopped
A handful of basil leaves, torn
12 ounces of provolone cheese, cubed
1/2 cup peperoncini, chopped
4 ounces Genoa salami, diced
Salt and pepper
Red pepper flakes
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper
1 tablespoon spicy mustard
6 garlic cloves, minced
Cook the box of tricolor rotini until al dente. When done, place cooked pasta in a large bowl, coat with olive oil, and place in refrigerator to cool.
Place all the dressing ingredients listed above in a bowl. Whisk until fully combined, then set aside to let the flavors get to know each other. Be sure to whisk again before you add to the pasta salad later.
Now, slice your tomatoes in half lengthwise then flip over onto a paper towel let juices absorb from the cut side of the tomato.
As your pasta cools, your dressing blooms, and your tomatoes sweat, prepare the rest of your salad ingredients accordingly, as listed above.
It’s finally time for the main event! Grab all your ingredients and dump everything into the bowl with the pasta. Give your dressing one last whisk and pour it over the pasta. Stir to combine, add extra salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste, and refrigerate before serving. Enjoy!
Green Garlic Scape Pesto Pasta Salad
Jamie Milne, food creator at Everything Delish, has a handful of tasty and seasonal pasta recipes that scream summertime. Check out how she makes this vibrant, garlicky pesto with orecchiette pasta variation.
Garlic Scape Pesto
3 handfuls basil
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
1 handful spinach
1 cup garlic scapes, halved
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
1 pound pasta of choice (I used orecchiette)
1 cup mozzarella pearls
1 cup spinach, chopped
1 handful asparagus, sliced in 3
1 cup snap peas, chopped
1/2 cup peas
1 lemon, juiced
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 handful mint, chopped
Cook pasta in salted water and set aside once cooked. In a food processor or blender, combine all ingredients for pesto. Process until combined and set aside.
Once pasta is cooked, let cool completely and add to a large bowl. Heat a medium-sized saucepan over med-high heat and add in olive oil. Add in chopped asparagus and season with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook until soft (6 to 7 minutes). Once asparagus is cooked, set aside.
Assemble pasta salad with all ingredients that are prepped. Add mozzarella pearls, and fresh mint and dress the salad with garlic scape pesto. Top with black pepper and mix until pasta is evenly cooked. Serve and enjoy!
Chickpea Orzo Salad with Lemon-Dill Dressing
“Love to Eat” cookbook author and KaleJunkie food content creator Nicole Keshishian Modic shared two different pasta salad recipes with “GMA,” starting with this bright, tangy and herby orzo option.
For the orzo salad:
1 cup uncooked orzo
15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 English cucumber chopped; this is about 1 1/2 cups
1 cup feta cheese crumbled, or substitute a vegan feta cheese alternative.
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1/2 cup raw almonds, chopped
For the lemon-dill dressing:
1/3 cup olive oil
1 lemon juiced (approximately 3 tablespoons)
1/4 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, mashed or minced
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Start by heating a pot of water over the stove and cooking your orzo according to the package directions.
Next, while the orzo is cooking, prepare your other salad ingredients. Chop your cucumber and almonds, dice your onion, crumble your feta cheese, and place the ingredients into a large bowl.
Then, once the orzo is done, drain it well and rinse it with cold water to remove all of the excess starches. Then, add it to the bowl with the rest of the salad ingredients.
In a separate small bowl, prepare your dressing by whisking together all of your dressing ingredients until they’re fully combined.
Finally, pour your dressing over the salad and toss until all of the ingredients are fully combine and coated in the dressing. Serve immediately, or store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Enjoy!
Healthy Pasta Salad With Creamy Peanut Sauce
1/2 cup natural creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
1/4 cup gluten-free soy sauce tamari, or coconut aminos
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
1 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil
Water to thin if necessary
12-14 ounces rotini pasta or pasta of choice
3/4 cup finely chopped red cabbage
1 cup chopped cucumber into cubes
1 red bell pepper sliced thin
4 scallions sliced, mostly the white parts
1 cup edamame
Garnish: White or black sesame seeds
Prepare the sauce by whisking all of the sauce ingredients together, then set it aside.
Boil the pasta according to package instructions, until al dente. Don’t overcook the pasta — it is best that it is slightly undercooked.
While the pasta is boiling, chop the cabbage, cucumber, bell pepper, and scallions.
When the pasta is done, drain it, and transfer it to a large bowl.
Add the cabbage, cucumber, bell pepper, scallions, and edamame.
Toss with the peanut sauce, taste it, and adjust the seasonings as needed. Garnish with sesame seeds.
Katie Austin’s 10-minute summer arugula pasta salad
The fitness trainer, health coach, Sports Illustrated Swim model and home cook loves sharing her creative, healthy and easy recipes on social media, which she told “GMA” includes “so many pasta salad recipes.”
Bacon Pasta Salad with Artichokes, Herbs, Feta, and Pistachios
Food writer and recipe developer Christian Reynoso created this dish with bacon fans in mind.
Cook time: 30 minutes
1 pound penne rigate, penne, or rigatoni
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for serving
10 ounces ButcherBox bacon, defrosted and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion, sliced thinly (about 2 cups)
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
Two 14-ounce cans artichoke hearts in brine, drained and cut into quarters
1 lemon, halved and juiced (about 3 tablespoons)
4 ounces crumbled French feta
1/2 cup toasted pistachios, chopped
Fresh whole mint leaves, freshly torn into small pieces right before for serving
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta as directed on the packaging to al dente. Reserve 1 cup cooking water and drain the pasta.
Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven or large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the bacon and cook, stirring regularly until the bacon is golden brown and most of the fat has melted into the pot, about 10 minutes. Turn down the heat to medium, and transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate or bowl using a slotted spoon. Leave about 4 tablespoons of fat in the pan and drain the rest.
Add the onion and garlic to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often until the onions become very soft, but don’t necessarily brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. Turn the heat down low, stir in the artichokes, lemon juice and cooked pasta. Stir in 1/2 cup of the pasta water, but if you want a little more sauciness, stir in the remaining pasta water and season with salt, if needed.
Stir in the freshly torn mint, transfer to an airtight container and store in the fridge before serving in bowls. Top with the crumbled feta and pistachios and more olive oil if desired.
Tips for the perfect pasta salad
McNaughton’s co-chef, Ryan Pollnow of Flour + Water fame, shared some of their best industry tips for making the best pasta salad at home all summer.
Don’t rinse your pasta — let it cool this way instead: “One mistake people make with pasta salad is rinsing the pasta after it’s cooked to cool it down,” they said, noting that this rinses off the starch on the outside of the noodle, which ensures dressing has something to cling onto. “We prefer to air dry it on a baking sheet or in a wide casserole dish, stirring it every four to five minutes so it doesn’t stick together.”
Add brightness to creamy pasta salads: “When making a mayo or aioli-dressed pasta salad, after your pasta has cooled and finished air-drying, we recommend spraying it with a touch of vinegar such as apple cider vinegar. The vinegar will add acidity that will provide a bright counterpoint to the richness of the mayo.”
Always double-dress pasta salad: Regardless of whether the dressing is mayo-based or a vinaigrette, McNaughton and Pollnow recommend tossing it with half the amount dressing and letting it sit refrigerated for at least two hours. “Then, add the rest of the dressing, because pasta salad soaks up dressing so readily, this double-dressed approach ensures a really creamy or highly seasoned vinaigrette-based salad,” they said.
Let seasonal ingredients shine: “Like any pasta dish, consider seasonality with your pasta salad, as well,” they said. “During the summer months, we lean on cherry tomatoes, basil and summer squash.”
This story was originally published on June 21, 2023.