After a lifetime of disliking any form of macaroni salad, I created an easy pasta salad recipe of my own. This easy, creamy pasta salad has the perfect balance of textures, flavors, and colors.
Originally posted August 22, 2014. Updated 7/16/2023.
Early on, the pasta salads I'd been exposed to were gross - way too sweet, or salty, or the pasta was too firm, or the sauce was too bland.
Up until very recently, I've completely avoided pasta salad since I was probably about 12 years old or so.
Recently our friend Trevor (Who you may know as "Mr J" - and if you don't, you probably should!) brought a tub of deli macaroni salad to one of our potluck parties.
My first - completely internal, as I was NOT raised by wolves! - instinct was "blech.. macaroni salad!" (Sorry, Trevor!)... until I noticed that it had cubed cheese in it.
I'd never seen that before. Curiosity piqued, I tried a bite.. and it was actually pretty good! It was legitimately a great pasta salad!
Flash forward a few weeks, to earlier this week.
My "stress cooking" reflex was triggered, and I was right in the mood for more of that creamy pasta salad.
I decided to make pasta salad for the first time in my life... loosely based on that deli one, but tweaked to be a bit more to my tastes.
Marie's Cold Pasta Salad Recipe
First off, I ditched the macaroni for Rotini, simply because it's more fun to eat it.
I couldn't remember what all was in the salad, so I added the crunchy veggies I wanted. I went with celery for crunch, red pepper for some vibrant color, and green onion because I love it.
The creamy dressing was based off of my awesome coleslaw, making sure to not let it get too sweet.
Oh, it was GOOD. We went through the whole batch embarrassingly quickly, and it’s since become on of my favorite recipes for summer picnics!
It’s also the perfect side dish for grilled foods, and is always a huge hit when served at a BBQ!
1. For the best pasta salad, you want the pasta to actually cook to soft, not just al dente - I find that this allows the pasta to better absorb the flavours from the dressing.
2. Aside from the pasta, this recipe is gluten free. To make a gluten free pasta salad, I recommend using brown rice pasta, and carefully watching it as it cooks - don't let it get to the point of falling apart!
3. My husband thinks that this classic pasta salad recipe is even better with peas added to it, so I do that sometimes for him.
When I decided this recipe, I think that the idea of peas triggered my "macaroni salad is gross" instinct, but who knows... I'm not exactly a connoisseur of pasta salad!
If it sounds good to you, go for it!
This recipe uses some super basic ingredients, all of which should be easy to find in pretty much any grocery store.
A few notes for you:
This recipe was designed using Rotini Pasta (a pound of pasta), for a few reasons.
First off, it was DIFFERENT. Elbow macaroni was what I was used to for the gross (to me) pasta salads, so I wanted to keep this separate from that whole thing.
Secondly, rotini is just fun to eat. I love the texture and mouth feel of those spirals!
Finally, rotini has a TON of surface area compared to most pasta... And that means more surface for the dressing!.
More dressing coated surface = more flavour.
That said, you can use different pasta shapes if you like. Aim for more hearty pasta shapes, that will hold up to the stirring and sauce.
For the sake of ease, try to get your choice of pasta in 16-ounce packages, so you don’t have to fuss with weighing out dry pasta before cooking it.
I love the pops of colour, flavour, and crunch that the fresh veggies bring to this pasta salad.
I use celery, red bell pepper, and green onions. (Though, I guess the green onions are more “fresh herbs” than veggies, but I digress...)
Nothing too wild!
If you want a bit more of an onion bite, you can chop up some red onion. The purple is a pretty color to add, as well!
While I’m usually all about the sharp cheddar / old cheddar, mild cheddar really does work better for this flavour profile.
That said, feel free to try other mild-ish kinds of cheeses. Gouda, Monterrey Jack, and Havarti would all work well!
Rounding out this recipe, you will need the following, to make the tangy dressing:
... I just really don’t have anything to add, as far as these last few ingredients go. Pretty basic!
How to Make Pasta Salad
The full recipe is in the recipe card at the bottom of this post, here is a pictorial walk through.
Get a large pot of salted water boiling.
Cook pasta according to package directions, but adding a few minutes to the boil time.
Drain the hot pasta noodles, and rinse well with cold water until cooled to room temperature. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine celery, green onion, pepper, and cheese, tossing to mix well and break up any cheese cubes that are stuck to each other.
Add cooled pasta, gently toss to combine.
In a separate, small bowl, combine all remaining ingredients except pepper.
Chill in a sealed container for at least 2 hours before serving. Yes, you CAN eat it right away... but it’s even better after chilling for a couple of hours!
This amount of dressing is perfect for Rotini pasta, which has a lot more surface area than most pastas - and a great choice in general.
If you’d like to use a different pasta, you’ll likely need less dressing. Start with about ⅔ of the dressing this makes, and add more if you like!
Finally, this will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days or so, but it’s best in the first 2-3 days.
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Marie’s Easy Creamy Pasta Salad Recipe
- 1 lb Uncooked Rotini Pasta*
- 3 ribs Celery chopped
- 5 Green Onions Thinly sliced
- 1 Red Bell Pepper Chopped
- 8 oz Mild Cheddar Cheese Cubed
- 1 ½ cups Frozen Green Peas Thawed and drained - optional
- 1 ½ cups Mayonnaise
- ⅓ cup Apple Cider Vinegar
- 2 teaspoon Granulated Sugar
- 1 ¼ teaspoon Salt
- ½ teaspoon Celery Seed
- Ground Pepper
- Get a large pot of water boiling, salt it well.Cook pasta according to package directions, but adding a few minutes to the boil time. Drain, and rinse well with cold water until cool. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine celery, green onion, pepper, cheese, and peas, if using. Gently toss to mix well and break up any cheese cubes that are stuck to each other. Add cooled pasta, gently toss to combine.
- In a separate bowl, combine all remaining ingredients except pepper. Pour over pasta salad, gently toss to completely coat. Season with pepper to taste.
- Cover and chill for at least 2 hours before serving.
Looking for more salad recipes - whether as a side, main, or dessert (LOL!)? I’ve got you!
Best Coleslaw Recipe Ever!
Canadian Candy Bar Salad
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"Extreme" Caesar Salad Recipe
Gramma's Potato Salad
Grilled Halloumi Salad with Peaches & Figs
Hazelnut Crusted Chicken Salad
No Tomato Quinoa Tabbouleh
Rainbow Salad with Carrot Dressing
Roasted Corn & Potato Salad
Roasted Radish Salad
Wild Rice & Edamame Salad
We recently redid the photos for this post, here are the original ones - for posterity!