Pasta salad is one of the easiest dishes you can make. There are so many things you can do with it and so many different flavor profiles you can create. Here’s my number-one tip for making a great pasta salad.
Most recipes will tell you to cook the pasta, drain it, then run it under cold water. This is not the best strategy. I am guilty of this in my cookbook, too. But what I’ve learned since then—and I learned this from the venerable Lidia Bastianich—is that you should never let pasta get cold before adding sauce to it. Once the pasta gets cold, it will not absorb the sauce and will not, therefore, be as flavorful.
At the same time, if you’re using a creamy dressing, such as green goddess, you don’t really want to put it on the pasta while it’s still hot. There’s a chance of curdling. So, here’s what you do…
Drain the pasta and run it briefly under cold water, just long enough to stop most of that steam rising off it. Shake it up to drain it of excess water and put it in a bowl and immediately pour the sauce or dressing on it.
Obviouly, heat is not an issue if you’re preparing a hot pasta dish. But sometimes what people do is they make too much to fit into their serving bowl, so they’ll leave some behind in the pot or put the excess in a separate bowl and leave it like that. This will become a stiff, hard mass before long. What you can do is to put it in a bowl and toss it will just a little of whatever sauce you’ve made or a little olive oil.
My second top tip for a great pasta salad is do not serve it cold. Cool, yes. Cold, no. Never. Cold mutes the flavors of food. So, let it sit out for 20 or 30 minutes before serving. Give it a good toss (not out the window, unless it’s terrible), and always taste for seasoning.