food Pasta Salad Recipe


eXtreme Business
It's time to share my
Ultimate Pasta Salad Recipe
When we first built the processing kitchen, I catered picnic lunches for a river rafting business for 2 summers.  We needed a yummy, sturdy salad that I could make in bulk and it would last a couple days in the fridge.  After a little bit of experimenting, The Ultimate Pasta Salad was created.   
There are a couple of tricks (not hard to do, more like "secrets") so make sure to read through it all.  This recipe scales up really well, I'm including a picture of the whole recipe card with serving yields, etc.  It makes it really easy to judge how much to make for those big gatherings.  Today's recipe was the smallest, 9 cups/15 servings.  If the salad is part of a larger spread, figure 1/2 cup per person.  You can easily make this the Entrée by adding diced ham, chicken, etc.  If using as an entrée, double the amount to 1 cup per person. 
I hope you find this helpful and delicious! 
Servings- 15
serving size- about 1/2 cup
Total amount- 9 cups


2 cups pasta (large piece type pasta works best.  Bowtie, radiatore, penne, spiral...) 
1 1/2 Tbsp Pre-mixed dry spices * see notes
1cup carrot shreds or finely diced- 
2 cups Broccoli florettes (about 1 1/2 heads)
1 cup Purple Onion- fine diced
1 can Black Olives- whole pitted, 14 oz can 
1/2 cup Parmesan
1T garlic, fresh, crushed
1 tsp Black Pepper (sorry, geeme :) )
1-2 cups Ranch Dressing
Buy pre-shredded carrots in the produce department for larger batches
Whole black olives work best so those that don't like olives can pick them out easily.  I didn't have any whole olives so I used sliced instead.  That's the way this recipe works!  Mix and Match, substitute, it's all good. 
Whole peeled garlic can be purchased in bulk at places like Costco.  Grind it up in a food processor and then freeze it in flat zip-seal bags.  It's really easy to open the bag, break off what you need, and then back in the freezer. 
When chilling, press clingwrap down to the surface of the food.  This facilitates faster cooling of the food by eliminating the air gap between the surface of the food and the bowl rim which acts as a insulation layer.  After it's chilled, then go ahead and use the Tupperware lid or whatever.   
Pre-Mixed Italian Dry Spices-
this is great to have on hand, I use it in a lot of things.  It's what's in the plastic tub. 
2 parts garlic powder
1 part onion powder
1 part Italian Herbs blend
1 part salt

Now the Secrets start!
First thing to making this an awesome pasta salad is to cook the pasta in seasoned water!  If you cook the pasta in plain water, it will taste...well...plain.  Season the cooking water and the pasta will taste like garlic, onion, and herbs.  Big bonus for the overall flavor of the salad.
Stock pot with the dry herb mix-

Secret #2-  you do not want "al dente" pasta.  You want fully cooked pasta.  If the pasta is al dente, it will soak up all the dressing and the salad will be dry. 
Secret #3- when the pasta is ALMOST fully cooked....DO NOT DRAIN THE PASTA!  add the diced/shredded carrots, cook until the carrots are al dente....DO NOT DRAIN!!!!
Secret #4- when the pasta and carrots are basically done, add the broccoli florettes for just a minute or 2 to blanch the broccoli.  Wait for it.......



NOW you can drain everything!  Put it in a flat bowl, cover with cling wrap pressed down on top of the pasta and into the refer for ~30 minutes, just to take the heat off. 

When the pasta has cooled, toss in the rest of the ingredients, mix it up and DONE! 


When making larger batches it's important to get everything chilled quickly.  Put the cooked pasta in a flat bowl or pan (cover with cling wrap to keep it from drying out) and thoroughly chill the pasta before combining with the rest of the ingredients.  Have the onions, dressing and olives chilled also. 
Obviously, this recipe is easily to customize.  Add some chiles, other veggies, leave out the parmesan, make it a meal...By using the tips about cooking in seasoned water and blanching some of the veggies, you have the basis for a whole variety of salads.  Don't like Ranch Dressing?  Use Italian!  It's up to you! 
Why are the veg cooked for a salad, wouldn't they taste better raw? Like.. crunchy carrots?
Boss, it's like the "crudité" that caterers make.  Blanching the veggies like carrots, green beans, cauliflower, broccoli makes them a little easier for the "GenPub" (general public) to eat.  Blanching also takes a little bit of the bitterness of fresh broccoli away.  They still have 'bite", but just not so hard crunchy like raw carrots and broccoli.  There's also the crunchy of the raw onions in the salad.
What's so great about this recipe is...if you want raw'll be awesome with raw veggies!  We went with the blanched one because it was designed for a wide range of river rafting guests....and we didn't want GrandPa to bust a denture at the Black Canyon lunch beach.....miles from the nearest road... 
And when folks are taking a salad to a large picnic....most likely there will be (orthodontically challenged???) people there who will appreciate the softer bite of things like carrots. 
Hophead- Hope you try it, and I hope people don't be shy about substituting what they like.  Ceasar Dressing would also be good! 
Thanks for sharing. As a wanna be cook, isn't it rule #1 to never put hot ingredients into the fridge? To blanch, I would give them an ice batch right after to stop the cooking immediately as well. I'll give it a whirl with a few tweaks, the wife loves pasta salad! 
Joyners, It's not to "never put hot ingredients into the fridge"'s that the hot ingredients need to be in flat pans (2" or less for food industry standards) and large chunks of meat need to be cut into pieces no thicker than 2".  Cooking a big ol' 2 gallon pot that's 12" tall and 10 diameter of chili and sticking that straight into the fridge is BAD!  Put the chili into a flat roasting pan or a couple of flat cake pans (cross-stack the cake pans if necessary to allow for cold air circulation in the refer). 
Sometimes, I'll cook the pasta, drain it in a colander, then kinda spread the pasta up and around the colander and put the whole colander in the fridge (sitting on a plate to catch the water).  The holes in the colander let the air flow through and chills the pasta fairly quickly.  You don't want to leave the colander in there for an extended time as the air will dry out the pasta.  But it works for a quick chill.  
An Ice bath/shock would definitely work to chill it down, but when the pasta is done, I don't want it sitting in any more water.  I suppose you could bump up the timing of adding the carrots and broccoli so that when they are done the pasta is still just "slightly" under done.  Then drain it, and into ice water.  The pasta would end up being fully hydrated.  This recipe is a "guideline" and experimentation is encouraged!    
Got the wife to make this and wow its goooood! lol so good we finished it off last night with some friends and are gonna make another batch tonight. :drooling: :drooling: :drooling:
GREAT! Did you spice it up a bit or keep it basic?
I wanted to spice it up but not everyone that was eating likes spicy so i just added some pure evil to my own! I love it with no spice or a drop or two of PE its damn good stuff either way.
This one is going in the recipe book for sure and thanks again for sharing. lol she is making up a batch right now cant wait. :party:
:woohoo: glad it's a hit and so easy for your Lovely to make. In fact, it's so easy I bet you could make it. ;) ;) :lol:
it's all good so long as it all makes it to the table on time! :D
Nice recipe and good tips! I make pasta salad once a month or so for the wife and kids. I'm not to big on it. But this looked good in your pics. I'm definetly gonna try spicing the water!   Thanks for sharing.
Bumping this post and laughing at hopheads post because he just contacted me about a pure evil refill. Blast from the past. :Lol:. I am making a batch today and looked up the recipe here instead of walking out to the kitchen and getting the recipe card from there. I know...inherently lazy me...
Give it a try, customize it to your tastes. I split today's batch, made one with ranch and the other with Italian dressing.