Summertime is the dream of every child and a delight at any age. Days stretch out forever, no school to worry about, and they can sleep as long as they like. Barbecues come out of storage, get dusted off, and readied for grilling. As the days lengthen, swimming pools are heated and windows and doors are flung open to let in the fresh breeze. I love the summer and welcome it with open arms every year.
Memorial Day weekend is coming up. Do you have plans? Many people will have barbecues, go to the beach, or picnic in a park. It is a perfect time for being outdoors, and enjoying the weather with family and friends. Throwing parties away from home takes some extra planning and strategy, but it can be easy with the right equipment.
You need to have non-breakable containers, preferably square or rectangular, with tight fitting lids. These will stack more easily, save room, and stay cooler longer. Freezer packs interspersed throughout keep things at the right temperature and won’t melt when they thaw. And lastly, the right cooler makes all the difference in the world. We have a soft-sided rolling cooler that collapses down to a small flat package when not in use. We have used ours for many years and always have it in the trunk of the car when we take road trips.
You want to plan meals that travel well, nothing with a lot of liquid with the exception of cold drinks. Look for things that don’t have to be kept frozen, or conversely piping hot. You want recipes that can be served at room temperature, that don’t take any last minute preparation, and that go well together. You always want a variety of flavors, textures, and colors to create interest. Remember that you taste first with your eyes, so bring a few sprigs of fresh herbs to garnish your plates.
Pasta and grain salads are some of my favorite things to take on picnics. They can be made ahead, are good either chilled or at room temperature, and everyone loves them. They are endlessly variable and a great way to use nearly everything in your refrigerator. I always like to add a protein to my salads, whether it is some cubed cheese, chopped meats, chicken, or seafood, or cooked beans. It helps keep people’s blood sugar stable longer. Also, don’t forget that there may be people joining you that are vegetarians. Offering vegetarian options can also be helpful to those on diets.
One of the most important aspects of serving food on picnics is keeping it at the right temperature. Anything that needs to be kept cold should be served directly from the cooler and the containers closed as soon as everyone has their share. Keep the cooler closed as much as possible. If you will be cooking proteins at your destination, make sure you keep them well wrapped and completely separate from any other foods to avoid cross contamination. Bring utensils to use with the raw food and a second set to use once it has been cooked. I always have several resealable plastic bags to store dirty utensils in.
If your foods have been out of refrigeration for more than a few hours, throw away any leftovers. It is better to get rid of them than risk people getting sick.
Today I am sharing a wide variety of pasta salads that are good on their own or as side dishes to grilled meats, poultry, and seafood. There is something for everyone and I hope you like my selection. Feel free to adjust them to your own taste, changing the seasonings or herbs, and feel free to add more vegetables for healthier options. You can also use these dressings on vegetable salads that do not contain any pasta. No one will know that the recipe is doing double duty but you. If you’ve made your salads ahead of time and their dressings are overly thick, simply stir in a little warm water to loosen the texture.
Have fun celebrating the unofficial beginning of summer this weekend and if you are entertaining family or friends, maybe one of these recipes will wind up on your dinner table. Have a great holiday!
- 8 oz elbow macaroni (about 1-3/4 cups)
- 1 cup Best Foods ® Real Mayonnaise
- 2 tbsp vinegar
- 1 tbsp Best Foods ® Dijonnaise™ or 1tsp Dijon, optional
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 cup thinly sliced celery
- 1 cup chopped green or red bell pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- Cook macaroni according to package directions; drain and rinse with cold water until completely cool. Drain thoroughly.
- In large bowl, combine mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper. Pour over macaroni and stir in celery, green pepper and onion. Stir until thoroughly combined.
- Serve chilled or at cool room temperature.
- Yield: 5 cups
- Kosher salt
- 12 oz dry penne pasta
- 7 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 7 tbsp red-wine vinegar
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
- 1 cup thinly sliced red onion
- 3/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives, very coarsely chopped
- 5 tbsp drained capers
- 1 small green bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 small yellow or orange bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 pint tiny cherry tomatoes (red or yellow or a mix) or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
- 8 oz feta cheese, crumbled
- Oregano sprigs as a garnish
- In a large pot, bring 6 quarts water and 2 tbsp salt to a boil. Add the penne and cook until al dente, 10 to 12 minutes (usually about 1 minute less than the recommended timing on the package). Drain the pasta and toss it immediately with 1 tbsp of the olive oil. Let it cool completely in the refrigerator.
- In a large bowl, whisk the remaining 6 tbsp olive oil with the vinegar and garlic. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the penne, the chopped oregano, red onions, olives, capers, bell peppers, and cherry tomatoes. (At this point, you can refrigerate the pasta for up to a few hours.)
- To serve, add the feta and stir until just combined. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Turn the pasta into a serving bowl and garnish with the oregano sprigs.
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice or cider vinegar
- 1 tsp lemon pepper blend, or to taste
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp dried oregano or thyme
- 1 lb small pasta (any shape), cooked al dente in salted water, drained, and rinsed
- 1 cup pasta cooking water, reserved
- 3 stalks celery, chopped fairly fine
- 1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
- 1 yellow bell pepper, finely chopped
- 2 scallions, minced
- 3 to 4 tbsp chopped fresh parsley, oregano, thyme, or basil
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice, lemon pepper blend, salt, and herbs. Whisk until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.
- Combine the vegetables in a microwave-safe bowl and cook for 20 seconds to slightly soften them.
- In a large bowl, combine cooked pasta with chopped vegetables. Toss to combine well. Add enough of the mayonnaise mixture to make a smooth salad. If you like a “drier” salad, you don’t have to use it all. Toss well to coat all ingredients thoroughly. If needed, add a little of the reserved pasta cooking water to thin the sauce.
- Chill, covered, at least 1 hour or until ready to serve. Sprinkle with chopped herbs.
- Can be made ahead and will last 3 to 4 days, covered, in the refrigerator. Flavor improves with age, so make this a day ahead and save yourself time on the day of your party.
- Yield: 4 to 6 servings
- 2 cups small shell pasta
- 2/3 cup Hellmann's® or Best Foods® Real Mayonnaise
- 1 tbsp vinegar
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh dill
- 12 oz fresh small bay shrimp, rinsed and drained
- 1/2 cup chopped cucumber or water chestnuts
- 1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes
- 1/2 cup chopped red onion
- 1/4 cup sliced pitted ripe olives
- 1/4 cup minced celery
- Cook pasta according to package directions; drain and rinse with cold water until completely cool.
- In large bowl, combine mayonnaise, vinegar and dill. Add remaining ingredients and toss to coat. Taste and season if needed with salt and ground black pepper. Serve chilled or at cool room temperature.
- 1 poundelbow macaroni
- 1/2 small red onion, minced
- 1 ribcelery, finely minced
- 1/4 cupminced fresh parsley leaves
- 2 tbsplemon juice
- 1 tbspDijon mustard
- 1/8 tspgarlic powder
- Pinchcayenne pepper
- 1-1/2 cupsmayonnaise
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add 1 tbsp salt and macaroni and cook until nearly tender, about 5 minutes. Drain in colander and rinse with cold water until cool, then drain briefly so that macaroni remains moist. Transfer to large bowl.
- Stir in onion, celery, parsley, lemon juice, mustard, garlic powder, and cayenne, and let sit until flavors are absorbed, about 2 minutes. Add mayonnaise and let sit until salad texture is no longer watery, 5 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.
- The salad can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Check consistency and seasonings before serving.
- Yield: 8 to 10 servings
- 1 cup mung bean sprouts
- 12 oz egg noodles, spaghetti, or other long pasta
- 4-1/2 tbsp sesame oil, divided
- 1 cucumber
- 1 cup lightly steamed broccoli flowerettes, chopped
- 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
- 1 cup cooked chicken, shredded (optional)
- 3 tbsp red rice, red wine or balsamic vinegar
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tsp granulated sugar
- 1 tsp hot chili oil
- 2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
- Blanch the mung bean sprouts in boiling water and drain thoroughly. Cook the noodles according to the package directions. Drain the noodles thoroughly and toss with 1 to 1-1/2 tbsp sesame oil.
- Peel the cucumber, cut in half lengthwise and remove the seeds, and julienne. Place in a large mixing bowl along with the broccoli, tomatoes and shredded chicken (if using). Add the cooked pasta; toss to combine.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 tbsp sesame oil, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and hot chili oil. Pour over the noodles and vegetables. Toss until everything is coated with the sauce and ingredients are evenly distributed. Cover and chill in the refrigerator at least 1 hour for flavors to blend.
- To serve, transfer salad to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds. Serve cold.
- Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Claire @ Claire K Creations
The Asian noodle salad looks fantastic. Yum!
Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook
Hi Claire, I am glad you enjoyed this. Sesame noodles are one of my favorites too!