Oodles of Noodles

Creating modern traditions

This Asian Pasta Salad packs enough flavor and filling ingredients to be a full meal and is the perfect dish to liven up late summer days.

Photography by Jeff Amberg

Traditional ingredients — mayonnaise, potatoes and fruit — have relegated Southern salads to chilled, and often ignored side dishes, rather than the healthy main attraction. Seemingly trapped in the culinary trends of a previous generation, it is time for a fresh approach to pasta salad, one that still highlights the variety that comes from Southern cuisine. Take the dish back to its foundation — chilled pasta. By adding light, tasty dressings and fresh ingredients, a host of possibilities become available. 

Many of the pasta salad recipes in Columbia’s Rosewood Market are inspired by their fresh produce and designed by Katie McKinney. Recalling a recent delivery of asparagus, Katie recommends trying new flavor combinations and warns not to be afraid to try something different. 

Perhaps that is what is so appealing about these salads. Even after Katie’s 25 years at Rosewood Market, she still finds ways to mix it up. Most recently, Katie has become interested in couscous because of how easy it is to prepare and the way it absorbs and enhances other ingredients in the salad. 

Typically when making a hot pasta dish, noodles should be cooked al dente, or “to the tooth” so that even as the noodles continue to cook because of their residual heat and the heat from a warm sauce, they don’t become too soft. However, because pasta salad is served cold, the boiling of the noodles must be approached differently. As noodles cool, they tend to lose some of their flexibility and become tough. Cook the noodles a minute or two longer and rinse with cool water when the desired texture is reached. “Rinsing the noodles in cool water removes the starch and allows the noodles to cool down so that the remaining heat does not continue to soften them,” says Katie

Sauces and dressings react differently with various ingredients in the salads. Some sauces stifle flavors while others enhance them. Creamy mayonnaise based-sauces extend the serving time of the overall salad, but the longer that the ingredients are combined, the less prevalent some of the flavors become. On the contrary, acidic dressings become stronger the longer that the ingredients are combined. In both cases, it is best to serve pasta salads within several hours of their preparation while ingredients are still fresh.

The various shapes of pasta play an important role. The starch from warm pasta dishes help the sauces cling to the pasta, but when that is removed through rinsing, another approach is needed. Ridges in pasta provide a way to carry a variety of sauces and flavors.

Step away from the mayonnaise. Combinations of oils, vinegars, spices and herbs can be used to create delicious dressings and sauces that bring together pasta with other ingredients, complementing and enhancing their flavor. 

“Mayonnaise can have its place,” Katie says, “just a much smaller place than usual.” Mayonnaise can be used to make a creamy sauce. If creating a dressing at home is too time consuming, use one of your favorite store bought dressings for a familiar and consistent flavor.


Classic Homestyle Macaroni Salad

In this recipe, Katie’s recommendations come together to create a flavorful homestyle macaroni salad.


4 cups macaroni noodles, cooked, drained, rinsed

1 bell pepper, diced

1/2 onion, diced

1 cup sweet peas

1 cup ham, diced



Combine two parts Greek salad dressing with one part mayonnaise. 

While pasta is boiling, dice the bell pepper, onion and ham. Combine all ingredients with dressing. Chill for 30 minutes before serving.


Southwestern Pasta Salad

While mayonnaise still plays an important role in this pasta salad, Southwestern flavors take it one step away from tradition and one step toward spice!


3 cups bow tie pasta, cooked, drained, rinsed

1 (14-ounce) can corn

2 tablespoons olive oil

10 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved

1 onion, diced

1 cup shredded chicken



1/2 cup mayonnaise 

1 lime, juiced

10 stems cilantro, leaves separated, roughly chopped

1 jalapeno, seeds removed, diced

1 packet taco seasoning

Drain corn. In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over high heat. Add the corn and stir occasionally until browned. It will begin to make popping and crackling sounds just before it is ready. Drain any excess liquid and set aside to cool.

To prepare the sauce, combine all ingredients. Adjust taste as needed by either adding more lime juice for zest, jalapeno for spice, or salt.

When all ingredients have cooled, pour the dressing over the pasta and accompanying ingredients. Stir to combine. Mayonnaise absorbs and dampens the flavors in the sauce the longer that they are combined. For the most flavorful dish, serve soon after preparation. Garnish with a lime wedge or fresh cilantro.


Caprese Pasta Salad

Enjoy the fresh basil and deep nutty flavor of this pasta salad either chilled or warm. If efficiency is important, then a jar of store bought pesto works well. However, preparing the Basil Pesto at home adds a nice personal touch.


6 cups radiatori noodles, cooked, drained, rinsed

Basil Pesto (recipe included)

10 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved

Mozzarella cheese

Slice cherry tomatoes in half and slice the mozzarella into bite-sized pieces. Stir in the basil pesto and other ingredients. Chill for 30 minutes before serving.


Basil Pesto

2 lightly packed cups basil 

1/2 cup toasted walnuts

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan

1 lemon, juiced

1/2 cup olive oil

1 garlic clove

Combine ingredients in a food processor and pulse until fine and well blended.


Zesty Asparagus Salad

Bright, fresh, simple ingredients make this salad seem like a completely different dish when compared to mayonnaise-heavy pasta salads of the past.


1 pound asparagus

4 cups rotini, cooked, drained, rinsed

3 tablespoons ricotta cheese

Zest of 1 lemon



1/2 lemon, juiced

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Trim rough ends from the asparagus and discard. Place asparagus in a saucepan with 2 inches of cool water. Add a pinch of salt and sugar. Allow the asparagus to soak for 15 minutes. After the asparagus has soaked, heat the pan on high. When the water boils, cook for 2 minutes and quickly drain and rinse. This salad is best if the asparagus is crisp, so it is important to not overcook. 

Cut asparagus into bite-sized pieces. Combine asparagus, pasta, dressing and ricotta cheese. Chill for 30 minutes before serving.


Greek Stuffed Shells

Jumbo pasta shells provide an artistic way to present a simple flavorful salad. The shell serves as a pasta bowl of sorts for this Greek medley. Combined with a homemade Tzatziki Sauce, this dish will not look like a typical pasta salad, but it still carries the same comforting, familiar themes.



6 jumbo pasta shells, cooked, drained, rinsed

1 teaspoon olive oil

Drizzle olive oil over the cooked shells just after they have been rinsed. Stir to lightly coat. 


Greek Medley Filling

1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted, diced

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 onion, diced

1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 cucumber, diced

Drain and rinse the canned chickpeas. Toss olives, tomatoes, onion, chickpeas and garlic in a bowl. Note: Do not add extra salt. There will be plenty from the olives.


Tzatziki Sauce

1 1/2 cups plain Greek yogurt

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 lemon, juiced

Salt to taste

2 tablespoons fresh dill 

1/2 seedless cucumber

The sauce needs to be prepared one day in advance of serving the salad. Shred the cucumber and place in a fine sieve to drain the excess water overnight. Combine the yogurt, minced garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Store in an airtight container and refrigerate overnight. Just before serving, stir in the dill and shredded cucumber. If the sauce is too thick, add some of the water drained from the cucumbers until the desired consistency is reached. 


Fill each shell with 1/2 cup of the Greek Medley Filling. Spoon some of the Tzatziki Sauce onto a plate and lay the filled shell on top. Garnish with dill.


Tortellini Skewers

These skewers, while not technically a salad, can be prepared quickly and are easy to serve cold. The rich, salty flavor of the prosciutto pairs well with the sweet late summer tomatoes, creating a simple hors d’oeuvre. Use cherry heirloom tomatoes to vary the color and make these pasta bites as visually appealing as they are delectable. Proportions depend the number of skewers needed. 


Cheese tortellini

Olive oil

Cherry tomatoes


Toothpicks or skewers

Prepare tortellini according to the instructions. Drain and rinse the pasta. These will take longer to cool than other pastas because of their filling. Toss the noodles in olive oil — not so much that they are dripping, but just enough that they are lightly coated. 

To assemble the skewers, simply stick the skewer through the noodle, a folded slice of prosciutto and, finally, a cherry tomato. Prosciutto can be thin and delicate; for this reason, it is important to fold a slice in half at least twice. It keeps this section of the skewer steady and ensures that there is a substantial amount of flavor.


Asian Pasta Salad

Crisp cabbage and tangy Asian flavors can liven up and cool off late summer days. While most pasta salads work well as a side dish, this packs enough flavor and filling ingredients to be a full meal. 

It is important to note that Asian noodles react differently than Italian. The noodles get soft very easily as they soak up the dressing. The udon noodles in this dish should be cooked al dente, and not according to the packaging instructions. If udon noodles are not available, linguini works as a good substitute. 

Because this dish relies on the crispness of the cabbage and the fresh flavor of the mango, it is best served within 3 hours of preparation. Serve the dressing on the side.


1 cup cubed mango

1 1/2 cups edamame 

2 cups boiled of shrimp, peeled

1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds

2 cups udon noodles 

1/2 cup green onion, diced

1 cup shredded red cabbage



1 lime, juiced

2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger

4 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons sesame oil

1/2 teaspoon fish sauce

2 tablespoons honey

4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Combine all ingredients. Serve chilled with sauce on the side.


Orange Pecan Couscous

A recipe shared from Rosewood Market.


2 cups fresh couscous

1 orange, zested, juiced

4 cups boiling water

1/2 cup toasted pecans

1/2 cup olive oil

1 small head radicchio, sliced into medium-sized strips

3 spring onions, sliced thin

2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

Mix couscous with juice of orange in a bowl. Pour in boiling water until it just covers the couscous. Set aside until cool. Toast pecans at 325 degrees for 10 minutes or until very aromatic, careful not to burn. When couscous is done, break apart with your hand. Mix with olive oil and remaining ingredients. For color, add

1 teaspoon turmeric and 2 teaspoon paprika. Serve on a fresh leaf of butter lettuce.


Fruit Orzo Salad

Fruit is not typically used in pasta salad. However, at the end of the summer, when so many fruits are in peak season and autumn is just around the corner threatening to put an end to this delicious time of year, it only makes sense to sneak them into every dish possible. 


2 cups fresh fruit (berries, peaches, plums, etc.)

3 cups orzo, cooked, drained, rinsed

1/2 cup feta cheese

1/2 cup roasted sunflower seeds



1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons honey infused balsamic vinegar

1/4 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

5 sprigs mint, chopped

Combine all ingredients. Chill for 30 minutes before serving.