This is The BEST Creamy Pasta Salad you will ever make, promise. Thanks to one secret ingredient, this classic creamy pasta salad is infinitely flavorful. Throw in your favorite veggies, cook up your favorite pasta, and watch this easy pasta salad disappear.
The Best Creamy Pasta Salad
Today is an exciting day, because I happen to be sharing the best creamy pasta salad on the planet. No really, it is. Trust me, I’m not proclaiming this lightly, as I fancy myself a sort of aficionado when it comes to pasta salad. And while I love them all (like this creamy roasted tomato orzo salad and this tuna pasta salad), when it comes to straight-forward, old-fashioned backyard BBQ creamy pasta salads, this is the one I reach to time and time again.
I wish I could take credit for this pasta flawlessness, but I can’t. The base recipe is adapted from the Junior League of Kansas City cookbook, Beyond Parsley. A tried-and-true cookbook serving up simple, elevated recipes that have become contents in my cooking repertoire.
I first tried, no wait, inhaled this very pasta salad many years ago at a bridal shower some of my Mom’s friends graciously hosted for me, and haven’t been able to stop making (or eating) it since. My first bite was one of those rare moments where I had absolutely no clue what flavors were making me weak in the knees and wanting more. I mean, I’ve had pasta salads before, hundreds of them actually, but this? This was different.
You know what the secret is?
Yup, the concentrated beef flavor from a jar that livens up soups, stews and casseroles. Not being able to detect it makes sense now, it adds an element of savoriness, an unami essence if you will, that’s near impossible to decipher.
Ingredients in The Best Creamy Pasta Salad
Here’s what else you’ll need.
Pasta. I use a variety of pastas for this creamy pasta salad, but lately, I’ve really been digging rotini. I love the way the crevices trap the the creamy sauce, and it’s one of the kids favorite pastas to eat. We also love using bowties, or classic macaroni.
Mayo. Always light mayo. I don’t find there to be a distinct difference between full-fat mayo and light, so that’s what I keep on hand. Obviously, if you only have full-fat mayo, you can use that as well. Whatever you do, do not use fat-free, that will definitely alter the taste of the final product.
Sour Cream. Again, I use light sour cream, but you could also use Greek yogurt to lighten it up even more.
Buttermilk. The original recipe calls for skim milk, but I like the tanginess buttermilk adds, plus it helps to thin out the dressing.
Beef bouillon. We talked about this already, but this is really what makes this the best creamy pasta salad ever. I like to use this kind because it’s more of a paste and blends into the dressing better than beef bouillon cubes do. If you have to use the cubes, dissolve it in a little bit of hot milk before adding it to the dressing, otherwise you will have chunks of bouillon.
Vinegar. I think white wine vinegar achieves the best results, so if you can grab it, please do. You can also use plain white vinegar or apple cider vinegar if that’s all you have on hand.
Salt. Even though there is quite a bit of salt in the beef bouillon, you still need a little bit more. Kosher salt is what we use.
Veggies. You could use pretty much any veggie you want here, but my perfect medley is a combination of halved cherry tomatoes, chopped green and red bell peppers, red onion, and black olives. If you like a little bit of meat in your pasta salad, you could also add in chopped salami or pepperoni.
Let’s Make Creamy Pasta Salad!
Cook the pasta. Arguably the most important part of making a great creamy pasta salad is cooking the pasta correctly. It should be perfectly aldente, and not mushy at all.
Start by bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Season with salt. Add the pasta. Cook until the pasta is aldente. It should have a slight bite to it. Drain and immediately rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process and to wash away any excess moisture.
Make the dressing. If you’re using bouillon paste, you can simply add the mayo to a large bowl as well as the bouillon and whisk until smooth. Add the sour cream, buttermilk, white wine vinegar, and salt together. Whisk until smooth.
Toss everything. Add the pasta to the bowl with the dressing. Toss until combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If needed, add a little bit of buttermilk to thin the dressing out to reach your desired consistency.
Add in the tomatoes, peppers, onions, and any other veggies or meats you’re using. Toss to combine. Again, season with salt and pepper.
Substitutions and Tips and Tricks for Recipe Success
- Be sure to only cook your pasta until aldente, or even just under. You want the pasta to have a good bite to it! Overcooking the pasta will result in pasta that becomes mushy and falls apart.
- If you use beef bouillon cubes, make sure to dissolve the bouillon in a few tablespoons of water buttermilk or milk before adding it to the mayo.
- Feel free to swap our your favorite ingredients – black olives, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, or even peppadew peppers would be nice additions.
- Don’t forget to season! While we’ve added what we think are good salt amounts, everyone’s taste is different, be sure to season to taste for salt and pepper, if you think it needs more, add more!
What to serve with Creamy Pasta Salad
- These Spicy Mexican Burgers are packed with flavor and the perfect main dish to serve alongside our fav pasta salad.
- Our favorite Blackened Chicken Sandwiches with Gouda are another great sandwich to add to your BBQ repertoire this summer.
- One of my favorite recipes on the planet are these Chopped Cheeseburger Sliders. So cheesy, so messy, so delicious.
- 1 lb rotini pasta
- 1 1/2 cups light mayo
- 1 1/2 tbsp beef bouillon paste If you use beef boullion cubes, dissolve the cubes in 2 tablespoons hot milk or buttermilk before mixing
- 1/2 cup light sour cream
- 1/4 cup buttermilk, possibly more for thinning out
- 3 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 large red bell pepper, diced
- 1 large green pepper, diced
- 1/2 cup chopped red onion
- 4 cups halved cherry tomatoes
- large pot
- Mixing bowl
- Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Season with salt. Add the pasta and give it a stir. Cook until aldente (it should have a slight bite to it). Drain and rinse under cold water until chilled.
- Add mayo and beef bouillon to a large bowl. Whisk until smooth. Add the sour cream, buttermilk, vinegar, and salt. Whisk until smooth. Add the pasta. Toss until completely coated. If needed, add a little bit of buttermilk to thin the dressing out. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Add in peppers, red onion, and tomatoes. Toss. Again, season with salt and pepper. Serve right away or chill until read to serve. If you do chill it, before serving, give it a stir, if needed, add a little bit of buttermilk to thin out the dressing as needed.
*Recipe adapted from Beyond Parsley