Pasta salad is a fantastic side for barbecue and grilled meats. It’s cool and refreshing, plus it’s inexpensive to make in bulk and can be prepared up to 4 days in advance.
It’s a popular dish in the summertime but can be enjoyed year-round. This Cranberry Walnut Pasta Salad is the perfect autumn side dish for your Fall barbecues or tailgate parties.
The best pasta to use for pasta salad
You can use whatever pasta you have on hand, but I always try to go for something with a lot of nooks and crannies in it.
I’m a big fan of using rotini in my pasta salad because the twisty, little noodles fill up with dressing and ensure you get a punch of flavor in every bite.
1. Rotini – in my mind, this is the ultimate choice when it comes to pasta salad. The little spiral shape and increased surface area allow plenty of dressing to stick to every bite!
2. Farfalle – also known as “bow-tie” pasta, farfalle is another great option for pasta salad. While it doesn’t have as much surface area as rotini, the folds serve the same purpose when it comes to the pasta-to-dressing ratio. Plus, it looks super cute!
3. Orzo – while it’s not the most common choice for pasta salad, it deserves a place on the list for certain recipes. Orzo is very short and similar in shape to rice, so a pasta salad made with orzo makes a great side dish.
How to make Cranberry Walnut Pasta Salad
1. Cook the pasta
The first step is to boil your pasta. You want to cook the pasta just shy of al dente. This will ensure that your pasta stays firm and holds up to the dressing once the salad is assembled.
Once your pasta is cooked, strain it and drizzle on a bit of olive oil while it cools. This will keep your pasta from sticking together.
You want to let the pasta cool to about room temperature, so while you’re waiting you can whip up your dressing.
2. Make the creamy balsamic vinaigrette
Yes, you can totally find creamy balsamic dressing on the shelf of your local grocery store. If you aren’t in the mood to make your dressing then this option will work fine, but I prefer to make the dressing from scratch.
I can control the ingredients and the flavor more precisely. Plus, a fresh vinaigrette always tastes better than the store-bought alternatives.
Start by grabbing a medium-sized measuring cup or mason jar. I like to use my Cambro Camwear Measuring cup. They come in a variety of sizes, plus they have measuring lines right on the side of the cup so you don’t have to dirty multiple measuring cups.
Combine all the dressing ingredients in your measuring cup and blend them with an immersion blender. I use my Cuisinart QuikPrep and it’s such a handy tool to keep in the kitchen. It makes dressings, sauces, and soups a breeze!
3. Assembling your pasta salad
Once your pasta is cool and your dressing is prepped, all you have to do is build the salad. Pour the pasta into a large bowl, and add all the other salad ingredients.
Pour on that homemade dressing. Give it a toss until everything is well-coated.
Store the pasta salad in the fridge for 2 to 3 hours to let it get cold and to let all of the flavors combine.
Serve this pasta salad with:
- Coffee crusted ribeye
- Whole smoked chicken on a pellet grill
- Grilled steak pinwheels
- Grilled porterhouse steak
Cranberry Walnut Pasta Salad
- 16 oz rotini pasta
- ½ cup walnuts chopped
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- 1 cup green onion diced
- ½ cup feta or goat cheese crumbled
Creamy balsamic vinaigrette
- ½ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tbsp mayonnaise
- 1 tbsp oregano
- 1 tsp Kosher salt
- 1 tsp black pepper ground
- Cook the rotini pasta 1 minute shy of al dente (per package instructions).
- Strain the pasta, coat it in a bit of olive oil, and let it cool to room temperture.
- Once your pasta is cool put it in a large salad bowl with the walnuts, cranberries, green onions, and cheese.
- Pour the creamy balsamic vinaigrette over the top and toss until combined and the pasta is well coated.
- Store in the fridge for 2-3 hours prior to serving. Can be kept in fridge up to 4 days.
Creamy balsamic vinaigrette
- Combine all the ingredients in a measuring cup or mason jar. Blend with an immersion blender until well combined.