Cook's Illustrated's Italian Pasta Salad

July 23, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten
Author Notes

The secret to getting the perfect texture in this Italian pasta salad is to overcook the noodles to well beyond the al dente (or “to the tooth”) we've long been taught to strive for. Through a process called retrogradation, the pasta naturally chills to tender and still-springy, not dry or stiff. A thick Italian dressing (thanks to blending pickled ingredients like pepperoncini and capers with quick garlic oil infused in the microwave) coats the noodles and stays punchy even when making the pasta salad ahead. You'll want to stir the arugula and basil in at the last minute, but even those can be washed, dried, and chopped ahead of time, then stored airtight with a damp paper towel to keep them perky. This recipe serves a crowd, but if you have leftovers, they are excellent crisped up in a nonstick skillet, or used as the base for a pasta frittata, or just eaten cold straight out of the fridge—no stiff noodles in sight. This genius trick also makes for a handy fix for overcooked noodles: If you accidentally find yourself with gluey, gummy, not-at-all al dente pasta, you can save it by rinsing with cold water and then serving it cold with a very good dressing—ideal for picnics, potlucks, and desk lunches alike. Recipe adapted very slightly from Cooks Illustrated and Associate Editor Anne Petito (September 2018). —Genius Recipes

  • Prep time 30 minutes
  • Cook time 30 minutes
  • Serves 8 to 10 as a side dish
  • 1 pound fusilli
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 anchovy fillets, rinsed, patted dry, and minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup pepperoncini, stemmed, plus 2 tablespoons brine
  • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
  • 2 ounces (2 cups) baby arugula
  • 1 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, quartered
  • 8 ounces salami, cut into ⅜-inch dice
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into ⅜-inch dice and patted dry
In This Recipe
  1. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, until pasta is tender throughout, 2 to 3 minutes past al dente. Drain pasta and rinse under cold water until chilled. Drain well and transfer to large bowl.
  2. Meanwhile, combine oil, garlic, anchovies, and pepper flakes in liquid measuring cup. Cover and microwave until bubbling and fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds. Set aside.
  3. Slice half of pepperoncini into thin rings and set aside. Transfer remaining pepperoncini to food processor. Add capers and pulse until finely chopped, 8 to 10 pulses, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add pepperoncini brine and warm oil mixture and process until combined, about 20 seconds.
  4. Add dressing to pasta and toss to combine. Add arugula, basil, tomatoes, olives, salami, mozzarella, and reserved pepperoncini and toss well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve. (Salad can be refrigerated for up to 3 days, but be sure to stir in the basil and the arugula just before serving. Let come to room temperature before serving.)

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Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

Genius recipes surprise us and make us rethink cooking tropes. They're handed down by luminaries of the food world and become their legacy. They get us talking and change the way we cook. And, once we've folded them into our repertoires, they make us feel pretty genius too. Watch for new Genius Recipes every Wednesday morning on our blog, dug up by Food52's Creative Director Kristen Miglore.