Creamy pasta salad is the perfect bring-along side dish for potlucks and tailgate parties. With an herby, tangy dressing for the win!
We’re nearly to July 4th weekend, although we are sadly still in the midst of a pandemic. But that doesn’t mean that get-togethers are totally out. We just have to be more careful and use common sense.
Is it safe to share food during the pandemic?
My family and friends have started having socially distanced picnics. Everyone brings their own camp chairs, plates, utensils, and drinks. Everyone carefully prepares a side dish, and then we grill the main protein.
If this sounds alarming, don’t worry: the CDC has reported that there is no evidence that COVID-19 is spread by preparing or eating food. In addition to the safe food handling procedures I always follow, I also wear a mask when I prepare food for sharing outside of my quarantine circle. This extra precaution makes it less likely that any wayward sneeze or cough will contaminate the dish. I also always wipe down the outside of the storage container with sanitizing wipes and have plenty of extra wipes on hand at the picnic.
Also check out my Virtual Memorial Day Potluck Recipes Roundup: even though it’s for a different holiday, it’s also perfect for July 4th. This post offers suggestions for hosting a safe potluck. It’s crammed full of recipes gathered from food blogger friends.
Ingredients in Creamy Pasta Salad
I use pasta odds-and-ends for this salad, which seems appropriate for the current situation. After all, we’re trying to limit trips to the grocery, so I had half a box of penne and half a box of elbow macaroni in the pantry. I decided to roll with it. Note whether the pastas have different cooking times: sometimes it can vary by as much as 2 minutes. If this is the case, simply add the shorter-cooking-time pasta 2 minutes later
For pasta salads, you don’t want al dente. Follow the directions on the box so that your pasta is completely soft, but not mushy.
I use red onion, green bell pepper, and celery.
The tangy dressing is a mix of mayonnaise, rice vinegar, onion powder, a bit of sugar, salt, pepper, and my favorite Italian seasoning mix.
Phil loves cubes of cheese in pasta salad: this is what he grew up with. He also liked the idea of adding chopped pepperoni. These are totally optional. Mild to medium cheddar is perfect for the cheese cubes. It’s important to coat all sides with dressing and separate cubes that are stuck together. Otherwise, they tend to clump up in the final salad.
How to make the pasta salad
First, boil a pot of well-salted water and cook the pasta, following the directions on the box. Meanwhile, chop the vegetables, cheese, and pepperoni and make the dressing. When the pasta is cooked, drain and rinse well with cold water for several minutes.
Mix the cheese cubes into the dressing, making sure that each piece is coated on all sides. Repeat with the pepperoni. Mix in the vegetables.
Next, add about half of the pasta and mix well. Add and mix the remaining pasta until you have your desired pasta-to-dressing ratio. Mix completely. Chill for at least an hour before serving.
Also be sure to check out my prep video!This salad is easy to make a day or even two in advance. In fact, I recommend that strategy: the salad gets even tastier if you make it ahead of time.
On the day of the potluck, be sure to keep the salad in a cooler. Although COVID-19 can’t grow outside the human body, bacteria does. It would be a shame if your party goers got food poisoning.
Creamy pasta salad goes well with just about anything off the grill. A few of our favorites are Grilled Italian Sausage Sandwiches with Pepper-Onion Foil Packs, Grilled Ribeye Steaks with Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms, Grilled Tri-Tip Steak with Chimichurri Sauce, and Grilled Beef Kebabs with Vegetables.
I hope you love this twist on a classic potluck side dish!
Stay safe. Stay well.
Creamy Pasta Salad
- 1 lb pasta - see Recipe Note #1
- 1 red onion - large (about 1 ½ cups), finely chopped
- 1 green bell pepper - large (about 1 cup), finely chopped
- 3 celery ribs - (about 1 cup), finely chopped
- 4 oz cheddar cheese - cubed (optional)
- 4 oz pepperoni - chopped (optional)
FOR THE DRESSING
- 1 ½ cup mayonnaise
- 2 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 2 tbsp herby seasoning mix - see Recipe Note #2
- 1/2 tsp coarse salt - (plus more for salting pasta water), or to taste
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper - or to taste
- Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box (see Recipe Note #3).
- Meanwhile, make the dressing: mix all ingredients for the dressing together in a large food storage container. Mix the cheese cubes into the dressing, making sure that each piece is coated on all sides. Repeat with the pepperoni. Mix in the vegetables.
- When the pasta is cooked, drain and rinse well with cold water for several minutes.
- Add about half of the pasta and mix well. Add remaining pasta (see Recipe Note #3) and mix completely. Chill for at least an hour before serving.
- I prefer elbow macaroni, penne, or a mix. If you used mixed pasta, be sure to note any differences in cooking time. You don't want overdone pasta mixed with underdone pasta!
- My favorite seasoning mix right now is Sunny Paris from Penzey's Spices. It contains shallots, chives, green peppercorn, dill weed, basil, tarragon, chervil and bay leaf. But just about any seasoning mix will do. I would simply suggest avoiding anything that contains mostly oregano, which can be overpowering.
- Some folks prefer more sauce in their pasta salad. By adding in the first half and mixing, then gradually mixing in the remaining pasta, you not only ensure that the pasta is completely coated, but you can also add less pasta if that's your preference.