- Always choose high-quality, Italian dried pasta in sturdy shapes such as penne or ziti, and cook it al dente in plenty of salted, rapidly boiling water.
- Choose fruity extra-virgin olive oil that is fresh and fragrant. It coats the pasta with its amazing perfume and helps release and distribute the flavors of herbs and vegetables.
- Go to a greenmarket or farm stand. Choose beautiful seasonal produce, and cook it gently to release flavor and retain texture.
- Choose two or three complimentary main ingredients. Choose one fresh herb. Go easy on the garlic and the vinegar. If you add onion, add it just before serving or choose a low-acid type such as shallots.
- Use an artistic eye. Cut your vegetables or other ingredients to match your pasta shape. A small dice works well for all pasta salads, but long, thin shapes that wrap around twisted pasta, such as fusilli, can look lovely.
- Always serve pasta salads at room temperature so the flavors will really sing. If you must refrigerate the salad, make sure to return it to room temperature before serving.
- Don't use stuffed egg pasta such as tortellini or ravioli in a pasta salad. These delicate pastas were meant to be eaten hot right after cooking in broths or subtle sauces.
- Don't dress your salads with butter. Butter congeals when cold, leaving a salad gluey. Frying oils, such as corn oil, leave a heavy, un-Italian taste on a salad.
- Don't use frozen or vinegary jarred vegetables in a salad. This is a warm-weather dish and should be made only when fresh produce is at its peak.
- Don't overwhelm the dish with 20 different ingredients. A pasta salad shouldn't be an outlet for a million mismatched leftovers.
- Don't throw in huge hunks of raw vegetables, especially garlic, onion, or green pepper that can jar the palate.