We're now on Team Orecchiette.

By Bridget Hallinan
Updated May 28, 2019
Courtesy of Gerard Craft.

Alongside burgers, hot dogs, and the odd grilled vegetable or two, pasta salad is a summertime staple. It’s easy to prepare and portable, making it a good choice for picnics and barbecues—at some point, a guest has probably shown up at your doorstep holding a Tupperware packed with mayonnaise-covered elbow macaroni, chopped up celery, carrots, and onions. We're not hating on the mayo-based classic, but we like to put our own spins on the dish by using smoked salmon, goat cheese, spinach, and lemon, or swapping out mayonnaise sauce for a light citrus dressing. However, we recently chatted with Gerard Craft—a Food & Wine Best New Chef alum, James Beard Award recipient, and chef at Pastaria—about all things pasta salad, and his simple recipe inspired us to mix it up a little bit and approach pasta salad as we would a warm pasta dish.

“I like to use a very good orecchiette or penne from someone like Rustichella d’Abruzzo cooked in very salty water and shocked, then tossed with high-quality olive oil,” he said. “Then I sauté baby zucchini with a little garlic and chili and chill in the refrigerator. I mix the two, add some fresh basil, and grate some good Parmesan cheese. If there are cherry tomatoes, I will add those to the pan at the last minute.” As you’ll notice, the chef uses high-quality olive oil as the sauce base (with Parmesan thrown in, for good measure) instead of a thick vinaigrette or mayonnaise mixture.

If you plan on making pasta salad at home, Craft has a few rules to make sure everything comes out perfectly.

Think outside the bow-tie

We love the idea of using orecchiette, a welcome break from mainstays like fusilli and farfalle.

Keep it simple

Focus on a few very high-quality ingredients—he says you want “a lot of flavor and texture,” and fresh herbs are an easy way to elevate the dish. He also mentioned a lot of people make the mistake of forgetting about the pasta itself.

Please, salt your pasta water

“People are often very scared of salting the pasta water to the extent it really needs to be salted,” he added. “Also, over-cooked pasta doesn’t make great pasta salad.”

For more pasta salad ideas, you can check out our full recipe roundup, which includes everything from fusilli with sun-dried-tomato pesto to fregola with charred onions and roasted cherry tomatoes.