Pasta salad is a chilled salad made with cooked and cooled pasta tossed in a dressing with a variety of other ingredients. Various versions of this dish are made in pretty much every region of the world where pasta is consumed, from glass noodle salads in Vietnam to American macaroni salad, and this dish can be incredibly diverse. Pasta salad is classically a summer food, usually served as an appetizer or side, although it can also be eaten as a main course.
In this salad, pasta is the star ingredient. Almost any variety of pasta can be used, and some cooks like to mix pasta shapes such as fusilli and penne for more texture and visual interest. As a general rule, filled pastas should be avoided, as should large pasta shapes. Many cooks also recommend cooking the pasta al dente, so that it does not become soggy after it has been blended with the other ingredients in the salad.
Dressings for pasta salad are quite varied. Vinaigrette made with oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper is a simple and common choice, but cooks can also make creamy dressings with various cheeses, mayonnaise-based dressings, or Asian-style dressings and marinades. Dressings can be tangy, sweet, or spicy, and they are typically left runny, so that they do not congeal on the salad.
The list of other ingredients which can be used in a pasta salad is also quite extensive. Fresh vegetables like celery, onions, and broccoli can be used, along with preserved fruits and vegetables such as sundried tomatoes and olives, and ingredients like herbs, cheeses, cooked legumes such as beans or lentils, meats ranging from various cured meats to freshly grilled chicken or fish, and so forth. Many cooks recommend sticking to one to four additional ingredients, so that the pasta salad does not become overwhelmed with the flavor of too many things.
Pasta salad should be kept chilled, to ensure that it does not become contaminated with bacteria. Some people like to allow it to warm to room temperature before serving, to allow the flavors of the salad to come out more, in which case any leftover salad should be discarded, as bacteria may have gotten a chance to establish itself in the salad while it was being allowed to warm.