My farmhouse kitchen window faces west, which is pleasant for washing sunset dishes. But during the summer, the hot afternoon sun heats my kitchen before I even start cooking. Like the majority of houses in the PNW, my house does not have central air conditioning. These factors make cooking dinner during the summer months grueling and impractical.
I scoured google for the best summertime meals and found a common theme: salads. Light, refreshing, served chilled.
To me, not filling or comforting.
To my picky children, untouchable yuckiness.
So how could I make this work? I thought about what my kids do eat and had my answer.
Bingo! Pasta Salad!
Pasta salad is an underrated option. It can be creative and versatile. It can be carefully crafted. It can be a create-your-own experience for the whole family. Pasta salad is the answer to everything, I’m assured.
Pasta salads have some basic bones that make it easy to recreate, yet customizable to suite your family’s needs. First, pasta. Any shape will do, but rotini and farfelle are my go-tos. These shapes have those ridges and spirals that grab onto sauce and are just plain fun for my boys to stab with forks. Cooking your pasta noodles before the heat of the day will ensure they are chilled in time for dinner. That prepartion will also keep you from turning on that high heat to boil water during the hottest part of the day.
Next, consider your protein. Grilling or smoking meat/meat alternatives is an easy solution to bringing the heat out of your kitchen and keeping it outdoors. If that is not a practical option for your family, you could consider using a crockpot or instant pot as the heat footprint to your kitchen will be much smaller than your cooktop. For meatless options, chickpeas, beans, and lentils are easy toss-ins.
Third, the add-ins! This is the step where things get creative. Use what you have on hand, in your garden, or plan ahead for a specific theme. Themed pasta salads take your ordinary weekly flavors and transform them into something familiar yet new. For example, taco nights are a weekly given in my household that can be easily pivoted to become a taco pasta salad! Same flavors, different base.
To finish off your pasta salad, get saucy! The dressing you use can tie everything together and add depth to your dish. Olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, italian dressing, blue cheese dressing, homemade vinegrettes, and pesto are all such easy options. Most pasta salad dressings can be freshly homemade and suited to please your particular tastebuds.
Summer Pasta Salad Ideas
Here are three pasta salad ideas that have been staples for my family over the past couple of summers.
1. Caprese pasta salad is the easiest and most well known. Caprese has the traditional combination of flavors of balsamic vinegar, tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. Now, just add pasta noodles for an easy summer dinner. For the sauce, using a mixture of ¼ cup olive oil and 2-3 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar creates a great flavor profile that is not too pungent.
2. Greek-inspired pasta salad is open-ended and so rich in flavor. Once you choose your pasta shape, add in vegetables like cucumbers, red onion, tomato, olives, and bell pepper. I often opt to grill turkey sausages and toss those in, as well. For a meatless option, consider chickpeas for a protein source. You could buy a premade greek vinaigrette or make your own(¼ cup red wine vinegar, ⅓ cup olive oil, ½ teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon oregano). Sprinkle with feta cheese to finish it!
3. Thai peanut noodle pasta salad is my favorite because itis the mostlight and refreshing. The dressing is a mix of odd ingredients that provides a salty, sweet, and sour flavor. It hits all the tastebuds!
Simply mix ⅓ cup smooth peanut butter, ¼ cup rice wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1-2 tablespoons honey, 1 large garlic clove minced, 1-2 tablespoons grated ginger, and 2 tablespoons water to thin (add more water 1 tablespoon at a time until you reach the desired taste and consistency). Stir in that sauce to your pasta noodle of choice (spaghetti is mine!), top with coleslaw mix, cilantro, and peanuts.
Endlessly cooking dinners for your family is exhausting, but especially during the heat of summer. Finding ways to provide food for your family without the stove and oven takes some creative thinking – but can be done! And utilizing the pasta salad category, you can easily make a heavy, hot meal into a lighter, more refreshing, and cooler-to-cook option. If you also feel at a loss for summer snacks, check out these 4 summer snack hacks for daytime food inspiration.
Which pasta salad will be on your menu this week?