My favorite pastas tend to be the simplest ones, like cacio e pepe, penne alla vodka, or a bowl of stovetop mac and cheese. I think that’s why I’ve never been a big pasta salad person: the irregularly-sized mix-ins butt heads with the curvy noodles, making for lots of awkward fork scooping and a pool of dressing left behind.
Then I learned a trick that completely changed my mind, and it’s to give pasta salad the chopped salad treatment. As a chopped salad stan (I know the Sweetgreen menu by heart), my interest was instantly piqued: when all the ingredients—including the pasta!—are roughly the same size, you get more flavors and textures in every single bite.
I learned about this trick from cookbook author Odette Williams’ recipe for Chopped Salad Pasta. The dish, inspired by an antipasto platter, is packed with salami, pepperoncini, and other tangy, salty additions. The real takeaway is the way she preps each ingredient: chopping them into bite-size pieces and tossing them with small noodles like ditalini or elbows.
I’m not the only one who finds this method brilliant. In a blog post titled “A Pasta Salad to Get Excited About,” cookbook author Jenny Rosenstrach writes that she “found herself eating it like cereal with a spoon to optimize the flavor-explosion effect.” Dorie Greenspan praised the recipe in her newsletter, complimenting Odette’s easy-going approach and the salad’s versatility.
How To Turn Any Pasta Salad Into a Chopped Pasta Salad
To Dorie’s point, you can apply this technique to any combination of ingredients, whether you’re starting with an existing recipe or making something from scratch. Here are some guidelines to set you up for success.
The pasta: Choose something small, like ditalini, macaroni, small shells, or pearled couscous.
The veggies: Chop them into bite-sized pieces, whether they’re fresh (cucumber or cherry tomatoes) or jarred (marinated artichoke hearts or roasted red peppers).
The cheese: Cut any hard varieties (provolone; fontina) into small cubes, or opt for bocconcini (small mozzarella balls).
The extras: The smaller they are, the less work for you. Chickpeas, olives, or capers are all great picks.
The dressing: You can’t go wrong with a lively vinaigrette, but a creamier dressing will work just fine, too.
Once you dig in, there’s no turning back: it’s chopped pasta salads from here on out.