You can find 1000+ of my kitchen-tested recipes using the Recipes tab, watch nearly 100 of my Kitchen Encounters/WHVL-TV segments using the TV Videos tab, join the discussion about all of my creations using the Facebook tab, or Email your questions and comments directly to me--none go unanswered. Have fun!


~Three Great Tips for Making the Perfect Pasta Salad~

IMG_1685My mom always made pasta salad for Memorial Day.  It was classic 1960's, Wish-Bone-Style -- rotini pasta with some cubed salami, pepperoni and American cheese, sliced black olives, diced onion and tomato dressed with store-bought Italian dressing.  It wasn't gourmet, it wasn't even particularly exciting to look at, but, because it was prepared correctly, it was remarkably delicious. Our Memorial Day picnic, at our reserved picnic table, at Lakewood Park in Barnesville, PA, would have been incomplete without the pasta salad.  Mom's Spring green Tupperware container went in and came out of the cooler several times throughout the day while us kids ran back and forth between the amusement park with its rides and our grassy spot across the lane by the pool.

6a0120a8551282970b014e88e6661e970dLakewood Park was an amusement park established in 1916 and was known as a nature retreat.  In its heyday, it boasted a very large wooden coaster and kiddie coaster in addition to the Wild Mouse ride. In fact, the park was broken into two sections with adult rides on one side and children's rides on the other.  It had a long miniature train ride that circled the park, a hand-carved Miller & Baker designed carousel, that was removed, preserved and still operates today in the Grand Rapids, MI public museum, and, a 150-yard in-ground cement pool.  Its Grand Ballroom was the host of big bands which included The Dorsey Brothers, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller, as well as celebrity performers like Dick Clark and Doris Day.  The Theater hosted countless theater companies.  It was a mecca for 68 years and was well-known for its annual Bavarian Beer Festival.  Sadly, it closed during the '80's, but that was well after I had moved to Happy Valley, so my remembrances of it as a bustling, busy, noisy, hot, sticky amusement park are crystal clear and that's how I want them to stay.  Thanks to the Joel Styer collection for this nostalgic postcard peek back in time.

When properly prepared, pasta salad is awesome.

Il_570xN.1025944851_ns1tWhen properly prepared, pasta salad is awesome.  When not properly prepared, pasta salad is awful.  Because an awesome pasta salad is a crowd-pleasing staple during the Spring and Summer, and, because I've tasted my share of awful pasta salad at picnics and potlucks over the years, when I teach a class about outdoor entertaining or tailgating, I try to include a pasta salad recipe in order to share my tips for a fork-friendly, properly dressed, full-flavored, pasta salad with:

A perfect ratio of pasta to add-ins to dressing = perfect pasta salad.

A bit about pasta salad:  It's a dish prepared with one or more types of al dente cooked pasta tossed in a highly-flavored vinegar-, oil-, or mayonnaise-based dressing.  Besides the pasta, almost anything (raw, marinated or cooked via any manner) can be added to pasta salad:  fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood, cheese, nuts, seeds, and/or herbs (to name a few).  Pasta salad is served chilled as an appetizer, a side-dish or a main course for brunch, lunch or dinner. While it can be served any time of the year, it's particularly popular in the Spring and Summer.

#1)  One pound al dente cooked, drained, rinsed, water-free pasta.

IMG_1670Use fork-friendly, bite-sized pasta shapes that hold dressing.  

One pound fork-friendly, bite-sized pasta.  My favorite is called "Trio Italiano" and is a combination of tubes, spirals and medium shells.  Any one on its own holds the dressing and collects small bits of add-in ingredients exceptionally well, so the choice is yours.  Colorful green and red pasta (in addition to white, which together = the colors of the Italian flag), which were not available to my mother in the 1960's, are great for adding color, but be aware, they add no detectable flavor. Cook the pasta to al dente, as directed, in salted water, about 9-11 minutes -- do not overcook the pasta, meaning: error on the side of ever-so-slightly undercooked.  Drain it into a colander, and, unless the recipe specifically directs to do otherwise, immediately rinse it under cold water.  Pasta that is not rinsed of its starch gets sticky and gummy.  Transfer pasta to a parchment-lined baking pan to cool completely and "dry", meaning, free from water, not dried out, about 30 minutes.

#2)  1 1/2-2 pounds tasty "add-ins" that complement each other.

IMG_1666Even-sized & bite-sized fork-friendly slices or cubes work best.

1 1/2-2 pounds additional "add-in" ingredients + fresh or dried herbs.  Use what you like or have on hand and by all means be creative, but make sure the ingredients go well together. Make one "add-in" ingredient the star of the show, meaning:  Add twice as much of it than other add-ins -- like most folks, I typically choose to do this with a protein (shrimp, tuna, chicken, turkey or salami being my favorites), but, if it's a vegetarian pasta salad, choose one vegetable and allow it take center stage.  That said, when adding vegetables like asparagus or carrots and cauliflower and/or broccoli florets, be sure to blanche them in boiling water for 1-3 minutes, then shock them in cold water (to halt the cooking process, so they are crunch tender and flavor-enhanced (rather than raw-tasting and rock hard).  As for cherry or grape tomatoes, please do not add them whole -- cut them in half or dice them so their acidity can be released to enhance the flavor of the dressing. 

#3)  1 1/2-2 cups very-very-flavorful dressing.

IMG_1672Add more flavor to the dressing, not more dressing for flavor.

1 1/2-2  cups of very, very flavorful dressing.  There is nothing worse than an under-dressed, almost dry, bland, boring-tasting pasta salad, except for  bland-tasting, over-dressed dripping wet one.  When it comes to dressing for pasta salad, taste it prior to adding it.  If it doesn't pack-a-bunch of flavor, it needs more seasoning -- a bit more seasoning than you think you need.  For perfect pasta salad, for flavor: always add more flavor to the dressing, not more dressing to the salad -- that's how over-dressed pasta salad wrecks occur.  Toss the dressing in, a little at a time, until the ingredients are well-coated and no dressing is puddling in the bottom of the bowl.  Set the dressed salad aside for 15-20 minutes and give it stir.  If it needs more, add it.  Rule of thumb: Right up until serving time, you can't always add more -- you can never remove too much.

Shrimp & Pasta Salad w/Lemon-Garlic Dressing:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a45f0f9d200cGreek Pasta Salad w/Tapenade, Tuna & Tomato:

IMG_1653Amish Honey-Mustard & Pickle-Relish Pasta Salad:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09d0f92c970dThree Great Tips for Making the Perfect Pasta Salad:  Recipe yields approximately 16 cups of pasta salad/ 1 1/2 cups dressing/12, 1 1/2 cup servings. 

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid; cutting board; chef's knife; 8-quart stockpot; colander; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; large rubber spatula; plastic wrap; misc. other items depending on the recipe

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c877664f970bCook's Note: Did you know that pasta salad could be served as an hors d'oeuvre?  These yummy little appetizer-snacks go to a lot of Summer picnics and a few early Fall tailgates too.  The best way to describe them is individual and portable portions of chop-chop pasta salad, and, most people can't keep their hands off them.  They can contain anything, as long as the ingredients play well together and are chopped into small morsels prior to judiciously drizzling (not drenching), with a cuisine-appropriate dressing just prior to spooning the salad into the shells and serving.  ~ Jumbo Shells Stuffed w/Shrimp Chop-Chop Salad ~.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019 


Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment