In hot weather, heavy mac-and-cheese isn’t the most appealing way to get your pasta fix. We’re breaking down the 5 best cold pasta recipes to quench your starchy craving.
When summertime arrives, our taste buds grow restless! Instead of heavy noodles, hot gravies and filling pasta bakes, people start to crave chilled pasta salads, farmer’s market veggies, savory BBQ and other picnic fare. It’s a simple concept: sunny skies and backyard barbecues go hand-in-hand.
Still, our tummies need their go-to comfort! Nobody wants to wither away the weekend grazing on a bed of lettuce and dad’s not-so-delicious burger special. We want our noodles—now!
The fact is, pasta doesn’t have to be banished for the season. Here are some summer-proof cold pasta recipes that won’t weigh you down.
A penne for your thoughts
Maybe you’re thinking that cold spaghetti, tortellini and macaroni seems strange. Here at Made In, we say: don’t be fusilli!
From refreshing soba noodles to tangy pasta salad, there’s a million in one ways to enjoy pasta cold (well, let’s just tackle 5 for today). We’ve put together the ultimate guide to becoming a cold pasta cooking master! So grab your strainer, pasta claw and chef’s hat. You’re in for a starchy ride!
What You’ll Need
Before diving into some scrumptious pasta salad recipes, let’s start with a few basic pointers for all the amateurs out there. Cooking and chilling your favorite noodles doesn’t require a ton of skill. However, you’ll definitely need a few key pieces of equipment to make life in the kitchen easier.
- Get a stock pot – If you attempt to boil pasta in a small saucepan, you’re going to have a bad time! To prevent sticking and promote even cooking, you want your starchy swimmers to have plenty of room in the water. We recommend at least a 5-quart pot, preferably in stainless steel. Made In offers a high quality stock pot with the option for a matching lid.
- Have a chef knife on hand – While we won’t be cutting the pasta ourselves, we’ll be prepping a bunch of delicious ingredients to complement each dish. An 8” stainless steel chef’s knife offers amazing versatility, as it can handle everything from steak and chicken to firm veggies and fine herbs.
- Keep a colander close by – Throughout the cooking process, timing is key! The threshold between al dente and overcooked is sometimes a matter of seconds, so you need to be ready to drain at a moment’s notice. As aforementioned, a pasta claw is also helpful for taste-testing pasta and assessing its doneness while it boils (no wall test necessary!).
The Dos and Don’ts of Making Cold Pasta
As with most things in the culinary world, there is no ‘one size fits all’ way to prepare cold pasta. Whatever tickles your taste buds, go for it!
Still, there are some basic tenets you should stick to in order to ensure the best possible chilled pasta outcome. Consider this your cold noodle constitution.
When preparing cold pasta dishes, DO:
- Use short pasta shapes. While tossing your mile-long strands of linguine in liquid is more than possible, such a method is not ideal. Instead, summery pasta salads are best prepared with small, compact pasta styles such as farfalle, rotini, penne, fusilli—even tiny dots of orzo.
- Go for the spirals. There are countless pasta types perfect for eating chilled. However, the majority of pasta salad recipes call for some kind of oil-based dressing, which needs something to cling to! Rotini, cavatappi and other corkscrew and helix-shaped noodles have the perfect nooks and crannies to get the job done.
- Undercook the pasta. Even if al dente isn’t your thing, this step is imperative to a successful pasta salad. If pasta cooks in the water for too long, it becomes mushy and won’t hold up to the aggressive ‘mixing’ that comes later. Just remember that even if the pasta seems too ‘toothy,’ it will continue to cook as it cools.
- Move it often. While it’s cooking in the pot, periodically stir the pasta to encourage separation and ensure every piece is fully submerged. Once drained, you should also continue to move the noodles with your fingers or a utensil to prevent clumping as it dries.
- Dress it while it’s warm. Cold salads shouldn’t be ice-cold freezing when you finally get around to dressing them. Instead, experts say to follow this foolproof method. When the pasta is still warm (but not boiling hot), add about 2/3 of your liquid ingredient. Allow to absorb and cool, then toss with the remaining 1/3 before serving.
When preparing cold pasta dishes, DON’T:
- Use fresh pasta. Gourmet Italian restaurants are known for their homemade pastas, but the fresh variety is best enjoyed hot. If you’re chilling the dish, stick with the dried stuff (either homemade or from the supermarket). Its firmness helps prevent pieces from mushing up when tossed in liquid.
- Forget to season. The flavorful impact of salt water cannot be underestimated! This step is so often overlooked by home chefs, so don’t be one of them. Be sure to season your boiling water with a generous pinch of salt to infuse the pasta with savory goodness.
- Make it ahead of time. So, take this tip with a grain of salt. You can certainly prepare your pasta salad a few hours (or even the night) before your big backyard barbecue. But keeping it in the refrigerator for multiple days is a big no-no. It’s bound to turn into a heaping blob, so stick with the ‘day of’ rule.
- Use heavy sauces. Meaty ragus, thick cheeses, chunky tomatoes, creamy toppings and other filling ingredients should be left for wintertime indulgence. For summer, select light, refreshing ones such as lemon, basil, pesto and other bright, airy flavor profiles.
Best Dressings for Pasta Salad
Hot spaghetti and fettuccine are often doused in tomato, alfredo, marsala, franchaise and countless other sauces. When chilling your noodle creation, you’ll also need a liquid agent to bind everything together and adequately flavor the otherwise bland noodles.
Most importantly, the use of a slick liquid stops the pasta from clumping together and thereby destroying your delectable masterpiece! If you coat each piece with enough oil, you won’t have to rinse the starch after cooking.
While the possibilities are endless, we recommend starting with a base of one of the following ingredients:
- Olive oil
- Red vinegar
- Lemon juice
- Salad dressing or marinade
- Garlic butter*
*So, this one is slightly controversial. When butter cools, it tends to clump, which makes it undesirable in cold pasta salads. So, we’ve got a secret hint to make it work.
After draining but before dressing your noodles, give them a light toss in olive oil. Finish with a white wine, butter, garlic and lemon sauce, and you’ve got a sensational pasta base for seafood. It can be enjoyed hot, cold or room temperature as a salad with shrimp or lobster, but beware—if the butter totally dries, you’re in trouble!
5 Summer-Proof Cold Pasta Recipes
Ready to put your newfound pasta knowledge to the test? Give these mouthwatering recipes a try.
Summertime Pasta Salad from Lana’s Cooking
Yummy rotini mixes with bright Italian dressing and finely chopped pickled cucumbers, bell peppers, celery, onions and fresh basil for a refined take on the picnic table classic.
Deli Style Pasta Salad from Taste of Home
Tri-color spiral pasta, hearty salami, ripe olives, farmer’s fresh zucchini, parsley, red onion and a homemade oil and vinegar blend create a colorful, refreshing powerhouse.
Fruit and Yogurt Pasta Salad from Finding Zest
This sweet take on the backyard staple incorporates fresh strawberries, grapes, pineapple chunks, blueberries, kiwis, slivered almonds, low-fast vanilla yogurt, honey, lime juice and yes—you guessed it—pasta!
Farfalle Pasta Salad with Lemon and Basil from Foodness Gracious
A simple dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, basil, salt and pepper coats a beautiful bed of farfalle, shallots, peas, zucchini and grated asiago. Amazing!
Buffalo Chicken Pasta Salad from The Girl Who Ate Everything
Hot sauce joins the mix as partygoers dive into a scrumptious sampling of penne, crumbled blue cheese, carrots, celery and rotisserie chicken.
Once you go cold, you never go back! Enjoy your pasta journeys…