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, tossed with summer vegetables, meats, cheeses, herbs, and a bold dressing is the perfect thing to transport out to the coast, to drop on a picnic table at camp, or serve up to harmonize beautifully with anything coming off the grill in your backyard. Here, as inspiration for what to haul to your next party, are 9 of our favorite summer pasta salads.
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 perfect picnic baskets for packing your food to go all summer long.
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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.
The Big Easy’s favorite hoagie-like sandwich—the muffaletta—gets the salad treatment here: salami and provolone cheese find the perfect 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.
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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.
Ricotta salata, artichokes, cherry tomatoes, basil, and parsley—this cold penne salad, adapted from Efisio Farris, sets the mood for a Mediterranean summer idyll. Get our Sardinian Pasta Salad recipe.
Twisty, dense gemelli pasta is the perfect 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.
Another orzo salad, this time with canned chickpeas, fragrant herbs, picholine olives, and crisp-soft celery. It’s simultaneously sophisticated and casual. Get our Celery and Olive Orzo Salad recipe.