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When I consider pasta salad, I consider summer time potlucks and barbecues. This chilled dish is commonly served as a aspect and isn’t the star of the present, however as a pasta-lover, I’ve usually questioned why. Is it as a result of we’re all serving subpar pasta salads? It’s excessive time we repair that.
For this recipe showdown, I got down to discover the finest-ever pasta salad recipe — the one that might be unattainable to miss at any gathering. I used to be on the lookout for one with a punchy, boldly flavored French dressing; the proper ratio of pasta to combine-ins; and the excellent stability of salt, fats, and acid that might hold me coming again for extra.
What kind of pasta form would reign supreme? Is contemporary produce superior, or are the finest combine-ins pickled and jarred? I attempted 4 well-liked recipes to search out out — and I’ll be making the successful recipe all summer time lengthy.
Meet Our 4 Pasta Salad Contenders
Pasta salad is to not be confused with macaroni salad, which is slicked with mayonnaise. No, pasta salad will get its punch from olive oil and vinegar, and is commonly studded with summer time produce. Recipes fluctuate significantly — from the form of pasta to the kind of vinegar used — to not point out the huge assortment of combine-ins.
To hold the comparability truthful, I selected recipes with an identical theme. For this showdown, I went with all Italian-inspired pasta salads. From there, I seemed for well-liked, extremely rated recipes and landed on 4 contenders: Pinch of Yum, Ina Garten, Martha Stewart, and Rachael Ray.
Pinch of Yum’s pasta salad repeatedly comes up irrespective of the way you seek for pasta salad, making it an apparent alternative. Out of the 4 recipes I attempted, it was the just one that referred to as for white vinegar.
(*4*) model makes use of a whopping 1 pound of feta, and makes use of the sweetness of solar-dried tomatoes in each the dressing and salad itself. I’m not an enormous solar-dried tomato fan, however I figured if anybody might change my thoughts, it will be Ina.
Martha Stewart’s rendition has you combine in fennel, which I’ve by no means seen utilized in pasta salad earlier than. She additionally provides chickpeas, which gave this recipe Italian chopped salad vibes.
Rachael Ray’s recipe intrigued me the most. She blends the dressing in the meals processor with vegetable inventory and makes use of three forms of peppers in her pasta salad. Could these two methods make all the distinction?
How I Tested the Pasta Salad Recipes
Unlike showdowns I’ve labored on in the previous, it was comparatively straightforward to check all 4 recipes in in the future. I prepped all the elements forward of time so that every pasta salad may very well be made at the very same time on testing day. I used the identical model of pasta (De Cecco) for every take a look at. Since the French dressing actually makes or breaks pasta salad, I used to be positive to make use of the identical model of purple wine vinegar (Colavita) and the identical olive oil (California Olive Ranch), whereas testing.
Since pasta salad is (often) served chilled, I wished to see how every recipe stood up with time. I examined every recipe instantly after I made it, 4 hours later, and the subsequent day.
1. The Most Disappointing: Martha Stewart’s Pasta Salad with Tomatoes, Mozzarella, and Chickpeas
I hate to say it, however I used to be actually not a fan of this pasta salad. For starters, one in all pasta salad’s most engaging qualities is you could make it forward and serve it straight from the fridge. But Martha’s recipe asks you to let it sit out at room temperature for half-hour earlier than serving, which feels unnecessarily fussy.
Logistics apart, the essential situation I had with this recipe is that it lacked taste. Even with all the scrumptious add-ins — fennel, chickpeas, capers, mozzarella — it wanted far extra acid and salt. I gained’t be making it once more.
2. The Smartest Dressing Technique: Rachael Ray’s Italian Pasta Salad
Before making this recipe, I was very skeptical about Rachael’s use of vegetable stock in the dressing, but I’m happy to report it was a super-smart trick! The dressing was great — the stock definitely gave it extra oomph and savoriness — and I’ll definitely be using this technique in future pasta salads moving forward.
With that said, what I should have been focused on is why there are so many peppers in this recipe. I love roasted red peppers, pepperoncini peppers, and cubanelle peppers, but using all three was too much. Next time, I’ll swap out a few of the cubanelle peppers with something salty, like hard salami or black olives. I’ll also swap out the cavatappi for shells: Cavatappi is best when there’s a sauce that can cling to its curves, and in this pasta salad it just felt naked.
3. The Most Flexible: Pinch of Yum’s Best Easy Italian Pasta Salad
Pinch of Yum calls this the best pasta salad — and for good reason. While I liked Ina Garten’s version slightly more, this is a really excellent recipe. The ingredient combo that’s called for in the recipe worked well, but I also loved that the recipe offered a ton flexibility in terms of add-ins, which feels key for pasta salad.
I will say I was hesitant when I saw the amount of olive oil used (a whopping 1 1/2 cups!), but the dressing really did bring this recipe to the next level in terms of flavor. You’ll want to add most of it to the salad upfront, and then save the rest for adding right before serving.
4. The Queen of Pasta Salad: Ina Garten’s Tomato Feta Pasta Salad
It’s rare for me to give a recipe 10/10, but Ina’s pasta salad deserves it. There aren’t a ton of different add-ins or techniques used in this recipe. Ina sticks to a handful of classic ingredients that always work well together: fresh tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and feta. Plus, she opts for fusili pasta, which has lots of nooks and crannies to trap all the delicious dressing.
There are two main factors that set this recipe apart. The first is that you only use 1/2 pound of pasta (most pasta salad recipes, including the rest of the ones in this showdown, call for 1 pound). This might not seem like a big deal, but the result is that the pasta-to-mix-in ratio skews in favor of the mix-ins, which means you’re never eating a plain, cold noodle. The second is that the recipe is all about layering flavor. The dressing is made with sun-dried tomatoes, which are like little umami bombs, along with red wine vinegar, garlic, and a whole cup of grated Parm, so it hits all the right notes of salt, acid, and fat. I can’t wait to take this to potlucks and barbecues all summer long — I know it will steal the show.
Do you have a favorite pasta salad recipe? Let us know in the comments!