Prepare to have a love rekindled.

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Pasta salad can get boring pretty quickly. Whether you are making from scratch or buying at the deli counter, more often than not it is a fairly standard combo of cooked pasta (often overcooked), cooked broccoli, chopped red and green bell peppers, maybe some carrots or celery, and some sort of onion. Possibly some sliced olives. Generally doused in a bottled Italian salad dressing.

To be clear, there is no shame in that game, and there is something comforting about that old-school potluck-style pasta salad. But if you, like me, are finding yourself on a friendship reunion tour this summer with a packed schedule of potlucks and al fresco dinners, you might already be a bit over the standby version.

A new, all-purpose (and delicious!) pasta salad

Take some inspiration from Mediterranean flavors for your next pasta salad and up the ante on flavor and fun! This is a ratio-based salad, so you can multiply up as needed for the size of your gathering. It is vegetarian (vegan if you leave off the cheese) with good protein, so it can serve as a meat-free entrée. Further, the light gloss of olive oil to dress makes it safe to leave at room temp for a good while, so it is ideal for buffets and outdoor gatherings. 

Pasta salad
Credit: Getty / Carlo A

How to make my all-purpose pasta salad

Use these ratios for every six people you want to serve -- and prepare to fall back in love with pasta salad! 

½ pound cooked small pasta like orzo, ditalini, or elbows

1 can white beans like cannellini or navy, or chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 5-oz. package fresh baby spinach, well-washed and dried

½ cup pitted and halved Kalamata olives (can subsitute drained and rinsed capers)

¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (can substitute basil, chervil, or mint if you prefer)

1 small shallot, sliced thinly

½ cup toasted pine nuts (can substitute slivered almonds)

1 cup crumbled feta or goat cheese (optional)

Extra virgin olive oil (look for one that has good fruity flavor)

Kosher salt and black pepper

Lemon wedges for serving

Here's all you do: 

Mix all the salad ingredients in a large bowl and add enough extra virgin olive oil to just lightly coat everything (start with about ¼ cup and add more if you want more), and season to taste with salt and pepper.

The herbs, olives, and cheese work with the oil to give you the flavors of a "dressing," and I like to serve with lemon wedges to bring that last minute pop of bright acid which everyone can add to their taste. By leaving the acid out of the salad, you do not risk the spinach going soggy or the noodles getting mushy, which means you can make up to two days in advance. Serve at room temp for best flavor. If you want a pop of color, add some halved grape tomatoes or chopped sun-dried tomatoes, or strips of roasted red peppers.