Use What You Have Pasta Salad

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Use What You Have Pasta Salad

I almost skipped writing this post, because it’s so simple. But, if you’re like me, during the dog days of summer, I don’t want to cook and I certainly don’t want to go out into the heat to go to the grocery store, unless I absolutely have to. So I get creative, and when that creativity is successful I write it down.

A few days ago, it was humid and hot and I had NO desire to cook, or go to the grocery store, even though I knew my cupboards were pretty bare. I was gonna have to use what I had. I started pulling random things out of the refrigerator and cabinets – a serving of cooked frozen broccoli, a bag of petite carrots, half a red bell pepper, kalamata olives, parmesan cheese, sundried tomatoes, and about 2 servings worth of dry pasta. It came to me – pasta salad! Very little work or cooking involved, and the payoff would be a cool and refreshing side dish. Perfect! I added a little zesty italian dressing, and it was AWESOME! It was so good in fact, that I decided to make it again. A larger batch this time. And since I really did need to go to the store, I added a few things. The recipe below is the latest version that I made. It’s delicious and so easy!

Open up your refrigerator and get creative! The ingredient combinations are endless. You can serve this as a side dish or add a meat or another protein and serve it as a main dish. I jotted down some other ingredient ideas, and have shared them at the end of this post. I think I’ll be making versions of this salad often this summer.




½ box Radiatore pasta

½ c. chopped sundried tomatoes that have been soaked in hot water to soften

⅓ c. parmesan cheese

1 bag of broccoli slaw

½ c. sliced kalamata olives

½ red bell pepper, chopped

¼ c. finely diced red onion

½ c. chunky sliced petite carrots

2 c. chopped fresh cauliflower

garlic powder

zesty italian dressing


Chop and combine all the vegetables, parmesan cheese, garlic powder in a large bowl. Add  the dressing of your choice and mix. Continue to add dressing until vegetables are coated. Stir, and set aside to let veggies marinate. Cook pasta. Drain and let pasta cool. DO NOT RINSE. Once the pasta is cool, add to the vegetables and mix.  Add additional dressing until salad is is coated. Amount of dressing is to your taste. Chill and serve.



  • The amounts of ingredients are based on your tastes. I tend to add more vegetables than pasta in my salads.
  • If you make a large batch, you may have to continue to add additional dressing the longer it sits.
  • If you decide to add cubed cheese, I would not mix it in, but add it as the salad is served, so that it doesn’t get soggy.
  • I like crunchy vegetables, so when using frozen, I would either defrost and add them or only cook them for a minute or so in boiling water, and cool them down quickly in an ice bath.
  • Try adding nuts or seeds before serving. I added a sprinkling of sunflower seeds when I served this.
  • You can substitute pasta with cooked quinoa, barley or rice

Additional Ingredient Ideas:

frozen peas

frozen corn

frozen broccoli

rainbow slaw

cubes of salami or pepperoni

cubes of cheese (leave on the side)

crumbled feta cheese, bleu cheese, or goat cheese

choice of dressing – even creamy dressings

fresh herbs like basil, parsley

canned tuna or chicken

cucumbers (seeded)

fresh zucchini or summer squash

green and/or black olives



snow peas, fresh or frozen

fresh mushrooms

bean sprouts

green beans, fresh or frozen

kidney or black beans

barley, quinoa, rice

© 2015, C.L. Alden. All rights reserved.

4 thoughts on “Use What You Have Pasta Salad

  1. I will be doing the pasta salad tomorrow…did you cook the carrots first? Also since I have a few handfuls of different pastas can I mix them if I drop them in order of there cooking times? Also I have a few dressings with an inch in each bottle…what do you think about mixing them?

    1. Hey Pam, Thanks for checking out the post! I put the baby carrots in raw and cut them into smaller chunks. If you don’t like really crunchy vegetables, you could blanch them in boiling water for a minute or two and then plunge them into an ice bath to cool off. I say use what you have! No problem with different pastas as long as you are aware of the cooking times. For pasta salad, I usually cook them a minute or so less than the directions say so that they are a bit firmer. They hold up better in the salad. Definitely no problem mixing dressings! I had a zesty italian and another type of oil and vinegar based dressing and I used a little of both. Also if you are using oil and vinegar type dressings and need to stretch them a bit, try adding a little more oil and vinegar to one of the bottles and give it a good shake.

    1. Hey Dave, I was happy with that addition! The slaw holds the dressing well and still stays fairly crunchy even after sitting over night. I think Rainbow slaw would work well too!

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