Overcooking Your Noodles Will Actually Result In A Better Pasta Salad

If you're a pasta purist (or just a lover of Italian food), when you hear the words "overcooked noodles," you might want to run in the other direction. That perfect al dente texture is the key to cooking perfect dried pasta, isn't it? Definitely — if you're eating it hot. But what about cold noodles?

Pasta salad is one instance when overcooking your pasta isn't just okay, but will actually yield better results. That's because the dish is meant to be eaten cold, and once the noodles are chilled in the refrigerator, they go through something called retrogradation. This essentially means that the starch re-solidifies, becoming more concentrated inside the noodles and firming them up significantly.

Overcooking will allow for this process to take place and result in a texture that's just soft enough, rather than turning al dente noodles into tough and rigid bites. So, if you're making your favorite pasta salad, take your noodles a few minutes past al dente for the tastiest results.

Keys to making the perfect pasta salad

Cooking the pasta correctly so that it chills to an ideal texture is paramount, but there are even more keys to getting your pasta salad just right, starting with your noodle selection. You want to be sure to choose the best pasta shape for the job; one that's bite-sized and ideally has ridges or curves so that all the other good stuff in the salad clings to it.

Once your pasta is cooked (in salted water, by the way), quickly rinse it off to cool and then immediately dress it so the noodles can begin to soak in all the flavors. Speaking of dressing, you'll want to choose something a bit thicker with some body to it so that the flavors hold throughout — if your dressing is too thin, it'll just slide off the noodles to the bottom of the salad.

Also, rather than serving the pasta salad chilled straight from the fridge, it's best to let everything come to room temperature before you eat it to allow all the flavors to come through. When ready, give the salad another douse of dressing and finish it off with fresh herbs right before devouring it for the best experience.

The best ingredients to add to pasta salad

Let's not forget that there's a lot more to pasta salad than just the pasta and the dressing — and the ingredients you choose to mix in are just as important. So what kinds of things make the best additions?

Since pasta tends to dry out a bit as it sits, make sure to go for some ingredients that add a bit of moisture to the salad. Think of things that add texture and pack in flavor, and even come with a little burst of juiciness: capers, olives, pepperoncini, sun-dried tomatoes, and marinated artichokes will all work wonderfully.

To balance out the bold flavors that you're infusing into your pasta salad, you'll also want to include ingredients that are fresh and light. Fresh herbs like basil, cilantro, and parsley; crunchy veggies like cucumbers; and mild cheeses including mozzarella or provolone will brighten things up. And lastly, if you're adding meat to your pasta salad, go for something hearty and substantial, like dried salami.