Pasta salad in my opinion is the perfect summer side dish. When I think of pasta salad I think of hot summer cookouts & backyard BBQs with the smell of the smoker or Trager cooking delicious meats to perfection. A great way to compliment the main course is classic pasta salad. If you need a little inspiration for your next summertime get-together have put together a list of 25 favorite foods to compliment the perfect side dish.
For an easy pasta salad recipe check out how I make perfectly al dente Italian Pasta Salad Recipe in the Instant Pot and Gluten-Free Banza Chickpea Pasta Salad. They are both super easy recipes and a crowd pleaser when I need a potluck side dish in the summer months.
Main Dish Ideas
- Grilled Hot Dogs
- Grilled Hamburgers
- Instant Pot BBQ Chicken
- Fried Chicken
- Boneless Chicken Breasts
- Homemade Chicken Fingers (Air Fry Range)
- Instant Pot Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches
- Air Fry Range Sticky Fingers
- Air Fry Oven Nashville Hot Chicken
- Instant Pot Chicken Bacon Ranch Wraps
- Instant Pot Sloppy Joes
- Air Fryer Range Coconut Shrimp
- Air Fryer Range Whole Chicken
The Best Side Dishes
- Creamy Potato Salad
- Instant Pot Chicken Salad
- Broccoli Slaw
- Fresh Vegetables
- Garlic Bread
- Macaroni Salad
- Green Salads
- Easy Fruit Salad
- Baked Beans
- Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers
- Garlic Knots Stuffed With Cheese
- Homemade Macaroni & Cheese
Pasta Salad Variations
Traditionally I serve a simple cold pasta salad with sharp cheddar cheese, black olives, mini pepperoni, an Italian seasoning blend, and a tangy Italian dressing, however, it really is the perfect blank slate for a variety of different flavors. Here are a ton of other fun ingredient ideas that pair perfectly with this classic side dish.
- Diced Bell Peppers
- Sliced Green Onions
- Fresh Herbs
- Diced Red Onion
- Roasted Red Peppers
- Juicy Cherry Tomatoes
- Diced Cucumbers
- Grated Parmesan Cheese
- Fresh Mozzarella Pearls
- Feta Cheese
- Pimento Cheese
- Romano Cheese
- Cubed Ham
- Sliced Salami
- Mini Pepperoni
- Bacon Crumbles
- Pine Nuts
- Sun-Dried Tomatoes
- Zesty Italian Dressing
- Olive Garden Signature Italian Dressing
- Primal Kitchen Italian Dressing & Marinade
As you can see the possibilities with pasta salad really are endless. The best way to make it is to use a combination of your favorite ingredients, remember, you can always try a totally different variation next time.
I always recommend making pasta salad a few hours in advance up to the night before you need it. Having time to chill the pasta and allow it to absorb some of the spices and flavors of the Italian dressing make it more pronounced. Prepare all the different ingredients and combine them in a large bowl, toss to combine with the dressing, and store in an airtight container overnight.
Pasta salad stores best in a large bowl with an air-tight lid. Store leftovers in the fridge for up to 4 days. When serving leftovers you may need to add a splash of dressing and toss to break up the noodles if they are stuck together.
No matter what type of pasta you are using be sure to prepare it according to the package’s instructions for al dente results and immediately rinse it under cold water to stop the cooking process. The best pasta salad has cooked but firm noodles. If you overcook the pasta it will likely fall apart.
Pasta salad should be served cold or at room temperature after it has been refrigerated for a minimum of 2 hours.
Yes! Pasta salad is the perfect make-ahead side dish. If made the night before add an additional ¼ of desired dressing and toss to incorporate before serving.
Yes, it is important to rinse the pasta under cool running water to stop the cooking process when making pasta salad. Pasta salad should be made with cooked but firm short-cut pasta varieties.