Gordon Ramsay once said that there is no such thing as a good pasta salad. And for a long time I agreed with this statement. But after some experimenting and thought, I have come up with some ways of making delicious pasta salads that work well for packed lunches and picnics.
First things first
The right pasta is fundamental to a good pasta salad. Firstly, there’s the shape. For small pasta shapes, I use small macaroni, farfalle (bow tie) or fusilli (spiral shaped). I’ve gone off penne as I find them too big and chewy. For a noodle salad, I use spaghetti or buckwheat noodles. And in general, I favour wholewheat pasta. Better for you with more vitamins and fibre, but also a really lovely texture – firm but not too virtuous.
The aim is to get the pasta cooked through but still firm. Mushy pasta salad is awful and a waste of good ingredients. Cook your pasta until just done, drain well and coat with a little olive oil. Do not rinse the pasta as the starch clinging to it helps the salad dressing adhere. The most important thing I learned? Cool the pasta completely before adding the dressing. If it’s still warm, it sucks up all the dressing and becomes too soft.
Dressed for Success
I divide dressing for pasta salads into broadly four categories: creamy dressings, vinaigrettes, satay and pestos. I lighten up mayonnaise style dressing by adding half Greek yoghurt or creme frâiche. My vinaigrettes I make with a little more oil than if I was dressing salad leaves but add plenty of mustard, garlic and dried herbs. Peanut satay sauce is delicious on noodles – I spike mine with some Tabasco and lime juice. And my favourite is to use a basil or sundried tomato pesto. Shop-bought is perfectly acceptable.
Add Some Veggies
As the pasta is so soft, you need to contrast this with crunchy ingredients. I love using blanched or raw sugarsnap peas, green beans, peppers, sweetcorn or baby corn, carrot and courgette ribbons, cherry tomatoes, broccoli and asparagus. Roasted veggies are also great, some of my favourites being butternut squash, red peppers, red onions, courgette, aubergine and cauliflower florets.
Add Some Protein
To keep you fuller for longer, add some protein to the pasta salad. I change it up and use leftover shredded roast chicken. And I buy the small cooked prawns and defrost them under cold running water in a colander. I also like tinned tuna, various cheeses and hard boiled eggs and nuts. I add a variety of nuts such as peanuts to Asian noodle salads, pine nuts to Mediterranean pasta salads and toasted, chopped walnuts.
Choose Your Cheese
Cheese is a great way to add protein and flavour. But not all cheeses work equally well. I think cheddar, especially mild cheddar, doesn’t have enough flavour and is too similar in texture to the pasta. My favourites are feta cheese and Parmesan shavings. I always have these in the fridge, and they work great. Some goats’ cheese or blue cheese might also work well paired with the right ingredients.
It can be difficult to judge the ratio of pasta to the other ingredients with most people tending to use too much pasta. I aim for a ratio of two thirds pasta to one third of the other goodies. I also make sure that the salad has enough dressing, but isn’t swimming in it. You can always add more veggies and have a 50/50 ratio.
Well-known food journalist and talk show regular Rozanne Stevens is the creative chef behind Makeaheadmealz.com group and private cookery lessons. For extra recipes and tips follow @MakeAheadMealz on Twitter or Instagram: @MakeAheadMealz, @RozanneStevens.
Join her for her Thinner Dinners cookery class and lunch for brilliant time, budget and figure-friendly food, sign up here.