There’s one thing that a summer picnic rarely goes without, and that’s pasta salad. When you think about all that it entails, it’s easy to see why it’s a fixture of outdoor entertaining. Pasta salad is simple to put together, requires very little cooking, and it can be served hot or cold, making it a convenient dish to pack away in a picnic basket or bring to the beach. Even better, most recipes for it offer a well-rounded meal comprised of a starch, vegetables, and oftentimes protein, so when the dog eats the hot dogs or the fish smells, well, fishy, the pasta salad can always come to the rescue.
The most brilliant part about pasta salads is that they’re versatile and allow room for a lot of innovation. Whether you choose fusilli, bow tie, or a classic penne, your salad instantly becomes your own just by distinguishing the shape of pasta you choose to make it with. And then there’s what you decide to put in it. Will you create a classic recipe like this Summer Pasta Salad, with cucumbers, asparagus, and thick, juicy tomatoes? Or will you choose to make it a full meal with protein, like this Lemon Shrimp Orzo recipe? You can even put an international spin on your creation, creating a dressing like the one in this California Asian Pasta Salad, made with telltale Asian ingredients like sesame oil and soy sauce.
And even with all of that in play, the best part of a pasta salad is that it is almost always healthy. With mayonnaise-based dressings become less and less of a theme, the dish is quickly winning the hearts of even the most calorie-conscious eaters, with revisions being made to traditional recipes by using whole-wheat pasta or creating a light lemon and olive oil dressing.
In short, pasta salads really are great. They give you a canvas for you to paint your own culinary creativity on, they’re a one dish recipe and therefore easy to put together, and they’re flexible enough to feed just about any kind of eater there is. They’re just what we love about cooking.
Anne Dolce is the Cook editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @anniecdolce