Ina Garten's Simple Trick for Hands Down the Best Pasta Salad Ever

Ina's pasta salad recipe sets the bar very high. If you follow her recipe, you'll never eat a bland pasta salad with dressing pooled in the bottom of the mixing bowl ever again.

Ina Garten's Simple Trick for Hands Down the Best Pasta Salad Ever
Ina Garten cut out over a green color-block next to a photo of her pasta salad
Simply Recipes / Photo Illustration by Wanda Abraham / Getty Images / Molly Adams

Remember a few years ago when the entire world (including me, reluctantly) was making the viral Tomato Feta Pasta? It was so popular that grocery stores worldwide sold out of feta cheese!

My hot take is that the dish, while eye-catching on the ‘gram, was not very good. To me, feta is perfect in its natural state, preferably cubed or crumbled. It’s not meant to melt into a sauce.

The flavor profile of the recipe, however, made a lot of sense. Tomatoes and feta go hand in hand, but when it comes to pairing them with pasta, they are much better suited to a cold salad, IMHO.

Ina Garten has known this to be true for a long time. Her recipe for Tomato Feta Pasta Salad has been around since 2012, back when Instagram was still a photo-sharing app (remember that?!). This recipe sets the bar for pasta salad quite high.

How To Make Ina's Tomato Feta Pasta Salad

First, Ina's mix-in-to-pasta ratio is high. While most pasta salad recipes call for a full pound of pasta, this recipe calls for only eight ounces. This makes it feel more like a salad than a bowl of cold pasta with some veggies and cheese. I like to use tricolor fusilli, but any short pasta shape will do. 

Now, for the mix-ins! The recipe calls for a pound of tomatoes, so they have to be flavorful. In the summer, I use tomatoes on the vine. If tomatoes are not at their peak, I use cherry tomatoes which tend to be more consistently flavorful out of season. If I’m making this recipe ahead, I stir in the tomatoes right before I serve it so that they don’t get mushy or mealy. 

For the feta, reach for the good stuff that comes packed in brine, which will come in handy later! While I firmly believe that there is no such thing as too much cheese, a full pound might be too much for some. You could scale this down to eight ounces if it works better for your budget and taste.

Now, the fun stuff! The recipe gets a burst of briny umami flavor from sundried tomatoes and Kalamata olives. They add pops of saltiness that make this salad incredibly hard to stop eating.

Last but not least, there's the dressing. This is where things start to get interesting. The first few times I made this dish, I made the dressing as written and it's pretty much perfect. A combination of red wine vinegar, capers, sundried tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil brings the right balance of brightness and sweetness to the dish.

ina garten's pasta salad
Simply Recipes / Molly Adams

How I Tweak Ina's Pasta Salad Recipe

According to the recipe, once you’ve combined your pasta, mix-ins, and dressing, you finish it with a generous amount of parsley and grated Parmesan. While this works well, I’ve started blending my parsley and parmesan with the other dressing ingredients to create a cross between a pesto and a tapenade.

To help it blend, I also add a splash of feta brine and pasta cooking water, which creates a lovely consistency that thoroughly coats the pasta. This keeps the salad fresher in the fridge and also prevents the dressing from pooling in the bottom of the mixing bowl as it sits. 

One thing to note: this dish contains a lot of very salty ingredients. To prevent over-seasoning, I use slightly less salt to cook the pasta than I normally would. Also, I hold off on adding extra salt to the dressing until I taste everything mixed together.

If you find the salad too salty, add a little fresh lemon juice to tone things down. Or add something neutral in flavor like crisp cucumbers or even peppery baby arugula to bring balance and a bit of green.