Recipe-Free: Pasta Salad

It's always good to have a few "no-recipe" recipes under your belt for easy cooking you don't really have to think about. This simple pasta salad is one of my favorites. It's great for using up any veggies you have in the fridge, and it's perfect as a tasty side or packed up for a light lunch.

Generally, people make pasta salad using store-bought Italian vinaigrette or some mayo-based dressing. I like to elevate mine with a fresh, homemade lemon-herb vinaigrette that is not only way tastier, but it's a perfect companion to any leafy herbs you might have on hand or in your window garden.

The vinaigrette keeps in the fridge for up to 5 days, and it's delicious on a ton of different things: grilled veggies, sliced tomatoes, grilled chicken or fish, or green salads. Whenever I find I have extra herbs lying around from other recipes, I'll whip a quick batch of this vinaigrette to use them up ... and I'm always glad I did. 

The pasta salad no-recipe recipe below is meat-free, but you can totally add some grilled chicken or cooked shrimp to it. However, this dish is pretty substantial on its own so if you've been thinking about introducing Meatless Mondays to your brood of carnivores, this is a good recipe to start with. Up the fiber by using whole wheat or whole grain pasta, and toss in some rinsed canned beans to make a complete protein.

The ratio I use for a balanced mix of flavors and textures is: 2 cups cooked pasta, 2 cups veggies, 1 cup beans, and 1 cup cheese.

Pasta Salad with Lemon-Herb Vinaigrette

Prep Time:  15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes (or according to pasta box directions)
Yield: 2-4 Servings & 2/3 cup vinaigrette


       Lemon-Herb Vinaigrette

  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup mixed leafy herbs (any combination of basil, parsley, mint, cilantro, dill)
  • 3 TB fresh lemon juice
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 ½ tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp black pepper

       Pasta Salad

  • 2 cups cooked whole wheat pasta
  • 1 cup halved grape tomatoes
  • 1 cup chopped roasted peppers
  • 1 cup halved fresh mozzarella balls
  • 1 cup canned chick peas, rinsed and drained


To make lemon-herb vinaigrette, combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Toss together pasta salad ingredients and dress with 1/3 cup vinaigrette. Reserve remaining vinaigrette for another use.

Note: This lemon herb vinaigrette recipe yields enough to double this salad if you’re feeding a crowd or bringing it to a picnic.  

This pasta salad recipe is a classic Italian-inspired flavor combo, but don't stop here. Check out these other ideas for inspiration: 

  • Mexican: black beans, corn, peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, cheddar cheese, cilantro
  • Greek:  kalamata olives, feta cheese, roasted peppers, cannellini beans, tomatoes, dill
  • Asian:  broccoli, carrots, snow peas, celery, edamame, mint

Have fun playing around with different ingredients and let me know how it goes!