A picnic table without pasta salad feels like something is missing. You can put out all kinds of beautiful dishes, but pasta salad has to be one of them. It’s dependable, kids love it -- and so does Nana.
This recipe combines pasta with beans and fresh vegetables for a more substantial picnic salad. The dressing is a simple vinaigrette – no mayo – so the flavors stay fresh and bright.
I like to use a small hollow pasta like pipe rigate, which are stubby little curlicues that look like the end of a pipe! I like that the beans magically fall into the round openings when you stir and serve the pasta, as if you had painstakingly placed them there.
This said, you can also use any of the flat or corkscrew shapes – penne, fusilli, rotini, cavatappi – or pretty bow-ties.
Prep work for this salad is minimal. You just need to cook pasta, make a vinaigrette, chop up some herbs and vegetables, and open a few cans of beans. (You can also make your beans from scratch on the stove or in a pressure cooker!) Mix it all together and serve.
This recipe calls for a pound of pasta and two cans of white beans – it will serve a crowd, for sure! But with any luck, the table will have so much food that you’ll get to take some of your salad back home for lunch tomorrow.
Pasta and Bean Picnic Salad
This recipe can be prepared up to a day ahead.
- 3 teaspoons salt
- 1 pound small-shaped pasta (curly, twisted, corkscrew, shells, or bow-ties)
- 7 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 cans (15-to 16-ounces each) white beans, like Great Northern, navy, or cannellini, drained and rinsed
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 pint mixed cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced or cut into quarters
- 2 stalks celery, halved lengthwise and very thinly sliced
- 1/2 red onion, very thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Cook the pasta:
Bring a large pot of water with 2 teaspoons of the salt to a boil. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes or until the pasta is tender.
Drain but do not rinse; shake the colander to remove excess water.
Combine the pasta and beans:
Transfer the pasta to a large bowl and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Shake the bowl to distribute the oil.
Add the rinsed beans and lemon zest to the hot pasta. Stir the salad gently. Leave to cool.
Make the dressing:
In a bowl, whisk the vinegar, mustard, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper. Slowly whisk in the remaining 4 tablespoons oil until it is all added.
Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if you like.
Finish mixing the salad:
Pour the dressing over the pasta and beans and stir. Add the tomatoes, celery, onion, and parsley to the pasta mixture and stir gently but thoroughly.
Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if you like. You can also squeeze some lemon juice over the top if it needs a touch more brightness.