Why You Should Make Your Pasta Salad Ahead of Time, According to Our Food Editor

For the best dish at the potluck, use this simple but important tip.

Broccoli, Grape, and Pasta Salad
Photo: Jennifer Davick

You've probably made pasta salad more times than you can count. We bet you could make it with your eyes closed, without even consulting a recipe. Maybe you have your own signature recipe. However you like your pasta salad, there is one small thing you can do to make it even better. And it requires no special skills or ingredients, only patience. Follow these simple steps and your pasta salad will be the best dish at the potluck.

Step 1: Cook the pasta

Start by picking your favorite type of pasta for the dish you're preparing. Then cook the pasta, according to package directions for "al dente," in well-salted boiling water.

Step 2: Drain and rinse

Rinse the pasta with cold water to stop the cooking process and rinse off the starch that will make the noodles stick together.

Step 3: Make the dressing

Whether you like a creamy mayonnaise-based pasta salad, or one that is dressed in a tangy vinaigrette, make the dressing in a large bowl, and add the pasta. Toss the noodles to coat. (All standard stuff, we know.)

Stop! Don't add anything else

Here's where we take a sudden detour. Before you toss in the cubed salami, the handfuls of torn basil, the roasted tomatoes, or whatever other ingredients you like in your pasta salad, cover the dressed pasta and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. This will help the noodles soak up the dressing, which makes them more flavorful and also less likely to dry out. (Do you ever do this when making your salad?)

Step 4: Proceed as directed

Before serving the pasta, give it a good stir, then toss in your add-ins. Add delicate ingredients like fresh herbs or cubes or cheese just before serving.

Step 5: Serve at room temperature

Don't serve pasta salad straight from the refrigerator; cold noodles are chewy and all of the flavors of the ingredients won't come through as well when they're still a bit chilled. Let the pasta come to room temperature for the best flavor and texture. (Did you know that too? You're a bonafide pasta salad expert.)

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