Pasta Salad – Simple as Boiling Water

Pasta Salad with broccoli, kalamata olives, red onion, and salami

Pasta Salad

“If you can boil water, you can make this recipe”. It cracks me up when I hear people say this or, “It’s as easy as boiling an egg”. Do you know how many different ways there are to boil an egg? Not to mention other variables like the altitude where you live or  your particular stoves idea of high heat. I know from practice that I can get a perfectly hard-boiled egg off my stove in exactly 12 minutes. For the life of me though, I can never get a decent soft-boiled. I guess my point is, boiling water may be easy, but if you want to make something with that water, it is never just that easy.

I was reminded of this over the weekend when we joined a few friends for a Memorial Day BBQ. We were in charge of bringing the salad so I whipped up this pasta salad that I have been perfecting for the past 20 years. It is one of those dishes that I have never bothered to write down the recipe for, I just make it from memory every time. At the party, I was asked by one of the other guests how I made it because she said her pasta always turns out dry. I gave her my best guess that she didn’t use enough oil or let the pasta sit hot for too long.

I wish I had the exact answer for her, but dishes can fall apart for any number of reasons. I have had my fair share of disasters and, even though I have been making this salad for 20 years, I still screw it up sometimes. Truth be told, I don’t write the recipe down because I like that is different every time. But that means, every once in a while, I screw it up and make it too salty or too oily. Or like the last time I made it, I bought vegetable pasta on accident and ended up with a mushy-mush-mush of gross broken up pseudo pasta.

It dawned on me this past week that every food blog or cooking website that I have visited only displays the successful dishes. This makes sense as ugly messes don’t sell very well, but it is sort of false advertising. Even the best chefs screw up now and then. And learning from our failures is just as important as the successes. In the future, I think I will add a page here for Food Gone Wild, sort of a bloopers reel of messed up dishes.

In the meantime, below is the recipe of the last revision as pictured in this post. The beauty is you can change up the supporting characters pretty easily- don’t like broccoli, skip it. Allergic to dairy like me, kick the cheese out or leave it in and let your guests pick it out. There are 100 versions of salami so mix it up. As for the basics though, don’t over cook the pasta and shock it in cold water when it comes off the heat. Use more olive oil than you would think. Try to add the juice from the tomatoes and peppercinis. Mix in the pasta, vegetables, and spices in batches- don’t just throw everything in at once and then add your dressing/spices at the end. It’s like popcorn – if you put all your butter on the top, guess what, all your butter is on top.

As always, use the freshest vegetables, especially since this is a raw dish so there is no masking crummy veggies by cooking them.


2 boxes of 12oz Barilla tri color rotini

1 med red onion

4 tomatoes

1 cup pitted kalamata olives

1 package of pepper jack cheese, cubed

1 head of cleaned broccoli heads, chopped into bite size pieces

1 package of salami, cubed


2 Tbsp Italian Seasoning

1 Tbsp Garlic Powder

2 cups Olive Oil

1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar

Salt & Pepper


Prepare the dressing first by vigorously mixing together all ingredients. Salt and pepper to taste. Let sit for one hour.

Prepare a pot of water to boil for the 2 boxes of pasta as directed on the box. While water comes to boil, begin cleaning and preparing all of the vegetables. Add pasta to boiling water and prepare according to box being very careful not to over cook – there is no hiding overcooked pasta in this dish and the preparation (mixing in veggies) can cause them to break apart making it even worse. Once cooked al dente, shock the pasta under cold water. You will need to toss/mix the pasta around a bit to get the middle and bottom also cold.

In a very large serving bowl, put in 1/3 of the pasta. Add in 1/3 of each other ingredient including 1/3 of the dressing. Repeat by adding another 1/3 and then the rest. I prefer to use my hand to mix it all together as a spoon can cause the pasta to fall apart. Taste the pasta from a couple different areas to make sure you have mixed well enough and feel free to add in more of the spices as you mix/taste. Refrigerate and serve.

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