My Pasta Salad Philosophy

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011 by Rachel

The first pasta salad I ever made was a disaster. I took the recipe from a friend after eating his dish at a potluck. I don’t remember what it included, I think chicken and perhaps pepperoni. I had friends and sister around as my guinea pig food tasters. It was disgusting. Nobody finished their dish. Of course, that was 6 or 7 years ago, and I’ve become a much more sophisticated cook (also better at obeying directions!) Though I don’t make pasta salads weekly, I really appreciate them for their endless healthy possibilities. Pasta salads also have such a nice social quality to them. I almost always make a pasta salad for parties as a vegetarian option or side dish. The picture here is of a pasta salad that I made for my birthday party last year. Nobody turns their nose up at pasta salad!


After visiting my mom this weekend, she sent us home with squash, cucumbers, and tomatoes. I instantly knew that I’d be making a pasta salad. I picked up some pre-cooked/pre-diced Tyson bagged chicken (a coupon buy), a block of mozzarella, and some rotini noodles. I always like rotini, farfalle (bowtie) or cellentani (curly cue) for pasta salads, because I think their shapes are cute and appropriate for the dish (i.e. holds the sauce/dressing best). For this particular pasta salad, I tried to slice up everything (except for the pasta) so it was dime-sized. I put all the ingredients in a big bowl, then I mixed them up with a big spoon. I sliced the cheese and veggies while the pasta was boiling, so the total meal prep time was around 30 minutes.


So you can recreate the recipe if you choose, here are the proportions: 1 bag of the pre-cooked/pre-diced Tyson bagged chicken, ½ block of mozzarella, ½ box of rotini noodles, 3 medium-sized yellow squashes, 2 cucumbers, 2 tomatoes, a splash of olive oil.



Our favorite pasta salad is much more basic, with only four ingredients: pasta, arugula, mozzarella, and tomatoes. We’ve also made pasta salads with beans, olives (never add them with olive oil though, yuck!), green onions, salad dressing (Italian works best), black beans, shredded cheddar cheese, etc. One of the best things about pasta salad is that you can use what you already have! If you already have a box of noodles in the cupboard (or a leftover half box from your last batch of pasta salad), use it. If you have a cup of leftover veggies or meat from last night’s dinner, use them. If you have a can of any veggie—drain it and use it. If you don’t have any veggies in the cupboard, a pasta salad makes for an easy grocery trip. I recommend one noodle type, one cheese type, and two to four vegetables. Meat and sauce are optional (but I would hope most of you keep olive oil in the cupboard!)


There’s no way around it, when you make a pasta salad, you always end up with a lot. When Derrick came home last night, he asked, “and how many people are we having over for dinner?” Nobody! But making a meal like this in bulk has its pros and cons. Some people get sick of eating the same meal for multiple meals in a row. I don’t. We had it for dinner last night. I had it for lunch and a light snack. We had it for dinner again tonight, and I imagine we’ll get another helping as a late night snack or we’ll finish it for lunch tomorrow. I think this is great.


I make sure to have self restraint when I have a large pasta salad like this in the fridge. I don’t ever pull out the big bowl and eat from it directly. I’ll pull out a much smaller/cereal-sized bowl and scoop the pasta salad into it. I don’t view the dish as an all-you-can-eat buffet. I look at my portion size and make sure I’m not overdoing it. Because I treat myself to small pasta bowls, I don’t feel guilty if I return to the dish several hours later for my next meal.


Some people are anti-pasta. I don’t worry about my pasta intake, because I already limit my bread intake. I haven’t eaten a single slice of bread or any potatoes in the past 2 days, so I’m not worried about pasta’s evil influence on my body. Balance the carbs the way you would balance any part of your diet. If pasta is my only carb-consumed in a day, then I’m not going to feel guilty. If the pasta is something I am worried about, as I do in the case of our lasagna recipe, I make sure to use half white pasta and half whole wheat pasta. I would never recommend switching entirely to whole wheat pasta for taste’s sake. Half and half is a reasonable compromise for our noodle health.


Also, understand and appreciate the power of the pasta. If I didn’t have the pasta salad, would I have so many servings of vegetables throughout the day? Probably not. If including pasta in a dish makes you more inclined to eat healthy foods, then it is a worthwhile food. A pasta salad is infinitely healthier (and cheaper!!! Think of the money in this too) than fast food, frozen food, pizza, hamburger helper, cheesy poofs, etc. If making a pasta salad only takes 30 minutes to make and you get at least 8 servings out of it, there is never an excuse of “I don’t have enough time to cook something healthy”. Pasta salads are an excuse-free dish, one that you can adjust for your taste preference, adjust for your budget, and adjust for your health needs. And that is why I always keep pasta salads in the back of my mind.


  1. Goddess dressing is also really good on pasta salad.

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