Pasta salad is an ideal outdoor food but even the most perfect dish can get boring after a few months. Try these interesting summer pasta salad recipes and spins on the classic side to make your picnic spread or BBQ the most exciting one yet.
If pasta salad didn’t already exist, the first person invited to a potluck picnic would pretty much have to invent it. A cold salad of penne or macaroni (or even spaghetti noodles!), tossed with summer vegetables, meats, cheeses, herbs, and a bold dressing is the perfect thing to transport out to the coast or nearest park, to drop on a picnic table at camp, or serve up to harmonize beautifully with anything coming off the grill in your backyard.
A note on food safety: some of these forgo mayo, but contrary to popular belief, store-bought mayonnaise rarely makes anyone sick; still, to be on the safe side, check out our outdoor entertaining hacks to see how you can use a simple shower cap and some ice to make snugly fitting bowl covers that keep things chill. And if you need to take your pasta salad on a journey, see our favorite stylish coolers and picnic baskets for packing your food to go all summer long.
Here are 11 of our favorite summer pasta salad recipes and spins on the classic summer side.
Simplicity and vividness of flavor are the appeal with this time-honored potluck charmer: fresh basil pesto, fresh mozzarella, freshly grated parmesan, freshly cooked penne rigate—are you catching the thread? Get our Classic Pesto Pasta Salad recipe.
Conchiglie (conch-shell pasta) shares bowl space with the freshest, sweetest veggies from the summer farmers’ market: corn, zucchini, and cherry tomatoes; grilling them before tossing them in gives them a smoky summer note. Crumbled feta and cilantro make it feel extra easy-going. Get our Grilled Summer Vegetable Pasta Salad recipe.
Elote is one of the best street snacks around, and now a staple of many backyard BBQs, but if you’re looking for even more ways to enjoy it, sweet corn, crumbly queso fresco, and a spicy lime dressing are perfect in pasta salad. The bacon isn’t necessary, but why not gild the lily? Get the Mexican Street Corn Pasta Salad recipe.
The Big Easy’s favorite hoagie-like sandwich—the muffaletta—gets the salad treatment here: salami and provolone cheese find their true home, surrounded by a zesty celery-and-olive relish. Get our Muffaletta Pasta Salad recipe.
Even if you grew up hating macaroni salad, consider giving this one a try. A dose of red wine vinegar and Dijon mustard give this old church picnic standby a devilish personality. Get our Mom’s Classic Macaroni Salad recipe.
Related Reading: 7 Gluten-Free Pastas for Pasta Salad
The flavors get better and better as it sits, so this Italian-American classic (inspired by the antipasti plate, with its salty, briny, and rich elements) is perfect for a potluck. Get our Italian Pasta Salad recipe.
Greek salad meets pasta salad for an ideal side dish (for a Greek BBQ or otherwise). Crunchy chunks of bell pepper and celery plus juicy tomatoes and briny feta pack in tons of flavor and texture. But don’t forget the kalamata olives—some of their juice is also whisked into the vinaigrette, Get the Greek Pasta Salad recipe.
In the same food family, this cold penne salad, adapted from Efisio Farris, sets the mood for a Mediterranean summer idyll with ricotta salata, artichokes, cherry tomatoes, basil, and parsley. Get our Sardinian Pasta Salad recipe.
Twisty, dense gemelli pasta is just the right vehicle to match with canned chickpeas, capers, diced cucumber, crumbled feta, and a mix of fresh parsley and dill. It’s breezy, light, and summery. Get our Pasta Salad with Chickpeas, Feta, and Dill recipe.
Orzo makes for a light, loose, and almost fluffy-textured pasta salad. This one combines cherry tomatoes with cucumber, scallions, toasted pine nuts, and lots of fresh herbs. Get our Orzo Salad with Tomatoes and Pine Nuts recipe.