The Ultimate Pasta Salad Recipe for Summer BBQs

Picture this – it’s a warm summer day and you’re hosting a backyard barbeque for your family and friends. You have the drinks ready, the meat is marinating, but you’re still unsure about what side dishes to make. You don’t want anything too heavy, but you also want something that’s packed with flavor. That’s where Poppy’s Pasta Salad Recipe comes in.

This pasta salad is the perfect side dish for any summertime gathering. It’s light, refreshing, and bursting with fresh flavors from juicy tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, and tender zucchini. Plus, with the addition of protein-rich deli ham or cooked chicken, it can even be served as a complete meal on its own.

But what sets this pasta salad above the rest is its creamy poppy seed dressing – a tangy blend of apple cider vinegar, olive oil, Greek yogurt, and of course, poppy seeds. The dressing perfectly coats every noodle and vegetable in its deliciousness.

Trust me when I say that once you try Poppy’s Pasta Salad Recipe, it’ll become a staple in all of your future gatherings. So put down that boxed macaroni salad and give this homemade pasta salad a chance – your taste buds will thank you.

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

Poppy's Pasta Salad
Poppy’s Pasta Salad

Have you ever been in a situation where you need to quickly whip up a dish for a potluck, picnic or party, but can’t seem to find the perfect recipe? Look no further! This Poppy’s Pasta Salad recipe is both easy and delicious, making it an absolute crowd-pleaser.

What sets this pasta salad apart from the rest is its unique blend of ingredients. The tri-color spiral pasta provides a visually appealing pop of color, while the deli ham adds a savory element that pairs perfectly with the sweetness of the apple cider vinegar dressing. And let’s not forget the fresh vegetables – cucumbers, zucchini and tomatoes – which add a nice crunch and burst of flavor.

But the real star of the show here is the poppy seed dressing. Made with simple ingredients such as Greek yogurt, olive oil, and poppy seeds, this creamy dressing elevates the salad to another level. Its tangy yet slightly sweet taste makes every bite irresistible!

And don’t worry about leftovers – this dish stores easily in the fridge and can be enjoyed for days afterwards as it only gets better after marinating in the dressing. Trust me; your taste buds will thank you.

So whether you’re hosting a summer barbecue or just looking for an easy weekday meal, this chicken poppy seed pasta salad is sure to be a hit. Trust me when I tell you that your guests will be asking for seconds (and thirds!) – it’s that good!

Ingredient List

 Poppy's Pasta Salad: the perfect dish for any summer gathering
Poppy’s Pasta Salad: the perfect dish for any summer gathering

To create this refreshing pasta salad, here are the ingredients you’ll need:

  • 1 package (16 ounces) of tri-color spiral pasta
  • 2 cups of cubed cooked chicken
  • 1 large cucumber, diced
  • 2 medium zucchini, diced
  • 1 pint of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 4 ounces of deli ham, chopped
  • 1 cup of parmesan cheese, grated

For the dressing:

  • 1 cup of olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup of plain Greek yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons of honey
  • 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard
  • Juice and zest of one lemon
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds

Tip: To make this pasta salad vegetarian-friendly, omit the chicken and replace it with roasted chickpeas or tempeh.

The Recipe How-To

 A colorful blend of veggies and pasta
A colorful blend of veggies and pasta

Cooking the Pasta

  1. Begin by cooking 16 ounces of tri-color spiral pasta until it is al dente. The pasta should be firm, but not too hard.

  2. Drain the pasta into a colander and run cold water over it to prevent it from cooking any further.

  3. Put the pasta in a large bowl and add a tablespoon of olive oil to keep from sticking together.

Preparing the Dressing

  1. In another bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt, 1/2 cup of mayonnaise, 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons of honey, 2 tablespoons of poppy seeds, and 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard.

  2. Mix all ingredients thoroughly until you have a smooth, creamy dressing.

Chopping Vegetables and the Cooked Chicken

  1. Take two cups of cooked chicken and cube it.

  2. Slice one medium cucumber, one medium zucchini, four small tomatoes, and half a cup of deli ham into small chunks.

  3. Add these vegetables to the bowl with the pasta.

Mixing It All Together

  1. Add 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese on top of your salad

  2. Pour your homemade poppy seed dressing into the salad ingredients

  3. Toss everything together until everything is coated with dressing evenly

  4. Chill before serving for the best pasta salad experience.

Enjoy your flavorful poppy seed chicken pasta salad with friends and family!

Substitutions and Variations

 Fresh ingredients make for a delicious salad
Fresh ingredients make for a delicious salad

Hey there, fellow chef! Are you feeling adventurous and want to mix things up a bit? Well, don’t worry because Poppy’s Pasta Salad Recipe is incredibly versatile and can accommodate various substitutions and upgrades. Let’s explore some creative ways to customize your pasta salad:

– Swap the vegetables: If you’re not a fan of cucumbers, zucchini, or tomatoes, feel free to swap them with your favorite veggies. Bell peppers, carrots, broccoli, or green beans are excellent choices that add texture and color to the salad.

– Add more protein: Are you craving something meaty or protein-packed? You can throw in some cooked shrimp, grilled steak strips, canned tuna, or boiled eggs to boost the nutritional value of the dish.

– Experiment with different pasta shapes: While we recommend using tri-color spiral pasta or penne rotini for the best pasta salad texture, there’s no harm in trying other pasta shapes. Bowtie pasta, farfalle, or fusilli work just as well as spiral pasta.

– Play around with dressings: If you prefer a tangier dressing than the classic poppy seed dressing recipe, try making a Dijon mustard vinaigrette using apple cider vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard and honey. Or if you’re partial to creamy dressings add 1 cup of plain Greek yogurt to 1/2 cup of homemade poppy seed dressing for a even creamier texture.

– Make it seasonal: Pasta salads are perfect for any season! In fall make it warm and comforting by adding cooked butternut squash and crispy bacon pieces. For summer use freshly sliced strawberries and diced avocados on top of your mixed greens.

There are plenty of ways to tweak Poppy’s Pasta Salad Recipe according to your taste buds and preferences. Don’t be afraid to experiment with ingredients!

Serving and Pairing

 So easy to make, even your kids can help
So easy to make, even your kids can help

Now that you have prepared this delectable pasta salad, it’s time to serve and pair it with some complementary dishes. Serve the pasta salad chilled with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese on top to add some extra flavor to the dish. This recipe makes a generous amount to feed a crowd, making it perfect for parties or family gatherings.

Pair this delicious pasta salad with some grilled chicken or sautéed shrimp for a light yet satisfying meal. You could also serve it as a side dish alongside your favorite grilled meats like steak or pork chops. It pairs exceptionally well with a glass of chilled white wine, which helps the flavors pop.

If you’re looking to serve this pasta salad in a buffet-style setting, consider pairing it with some other salads like Caesar salad or Greek salad to add more variety to your spread. Or you could create a pasta bar where guests can customize their own bowl of pasta by offering different toppings and dressings.

In short, there are endless pairing possibilities for this versatile pasta salad. Whether you want to serve it as an entrée or as a side dish, this recipe is guaranteed to be a crowd-pleaser.

Make-Ahead, Storing and Reheating

 The best way to feed a crowd without spending hours in the kitchen
The best way to feed a crowd without spending hours in the kitchen

As a party enthusiast, I am thrilled to tell you that this pasta salad recipe can be made ahead of time! In fact, it is best to make it the night before for optimal flavors. Simply cover tightly with plastic wrap or a lid and refrigerate until needed. This makes it a great option for busy hosts that need to prepare other dishes on the day of the event.

Storing leftovers is a breeze with the Poppy’s Pasta Salad Recipe. To do so, just transfer the salad to an airtight container and store it in the fridge for up to four days. However, if you want to keep things fresh and crispy, I recommend separating the dressing from the rest of the ingredients and mix them right before serving.

Reheating pasta salad can be tricky as reheating any dish may cause loss of flavor or texture. That’s why I recommend only heating up individual servings in the microwave. Be sure to add extra dressing before serving each portion since reheating tends to dry out salads. For those who prefer chilled salads, feel free to eat it cold straight out of the fridge!

By following these tips, you can ensure that your pasta salad remains delightful even after a few days. Whether you are hosting your first dinner party or catering an event for 100 guests, Poppy’s Pasta Salad Recipe promises to wow your guests with its colorful combination of tri-color spiral pasta, crisp cucumbers, juicy tomatoes, savory deli ham and creamy poppy seed dressing!

Tips for Perfect Results

 Don't forget the secret ingredient: love
Don’t forget the secret ingredient: love

Let me share with you some tips to achieve the perfect Poppy’s Pasta Salad.

Firstly, never overcook your pasta! The best pasta salad is made with al dente noodles. Overcooking your pasta will result in a soggy salad that nobody likes.

Secondly, make sure to rinse your pasta under cold water after draining it. This will stop the cooking process and cool down the noodles.

Thirdly, use fresh ingredients. To get the best flavors from your pasta salad, use fresh cucumbers, zucchinis, tomatoes, and deli ham. The freshness of the ingredients will add punch to your salad and make it irresistible.

Fourthly, let the dressing soak into the pasta for an hour before serving. This helps to infuse the flavors into every noodle and distribute them evenly throughout the entire salad.

Additionally, try using different flavors of dressing to make your salad unique. Some great options are creamy poppy seed dressing or a lemon poppy seed vinaigrette. You can even make your own homemade poppy seed dressing by combining apple cider vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard, and poppy seeds.

Furthermore, consider adding chicken or shrimp to turn this side dish into a filling meal for a summer picnic or Fall dinner party.

Lastly, don’t shy away from adding some crunch to your pasta salad with nuts such as toasted almonds or pine nuts — they add great texture and nuttiness that will excite your guests’ taste buds.

Remember these tips when preparing Poppy’s Pasta Salad at home and enjoy a memorable experience with friends and family around delicious food!


Before we conclude this recipe article, let’s take a look at the frequently asked questions that may arise while preparing this creamy and delicious Poppy’s Pasta Salad Recipe. These queries range from ingredient substitutions to storing methods and are sure to help you make the best pasta salad. So, let’s dive right in!

What are the five mistakes to avoid pasta salad?

When preparing a pasta salad, there are a few common errors that can greatly affect the final taste and presentation of the dish. It is important to select the appropriate type of pasta and cook it perfectly to achieve the desired texture. Additionally, seasoning the pasta is crucial for flavor enhancement. Dressing the pasta salad while it is still warm will help the flavors to infuse into the dish. Lastly, preparing the pasta salad too far in advance can lessen the freshness of the ingredients and decrease the overall quality of the dish.

What is poppy seed salad dressing made of?

Poppy seed dressing typically includes olive oil, Greek yogurt, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, honey, and salt. For a healthy version, these ingredients come together to create a delicious and creamy dressing. If you’re wondering how long it lasts, keep reading for more information.

Why is my pasta salad not creamy?

Cooking the pasta for the macaroni salad requires a delicate balance. Under-cooked pasta won’t mix well with the dressing and will become dry, while over-cooking the pasta will result in a soggy and unappetizing salad. The ideal pasta preparation is crucial to maintain a creamy and smooth consistency for the macaroni salad.

Is it better to make pasta salad the night before?

For optimal flavor, I suggest preparing this dish about 8 to 12 hours in advance and storing it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. This will allow the flavors to meld together and intensify. However, be sure to give it a thorough stir before serving to avoid the dressing from settling at the bottom of the bowl.

Bottom Line

In conclusion, Poppy’s Pasta Salad Recipe is a perfect dish for summer picnics or potlucks. It is easy to make, delicious and refreshing. With the perfect combination of ingredients and the burst of flavor from the poppy seed dressing, you can never go wrong with this pasta salad.

It is also incredibly versatile, and you can easily tweak it to suit your taste buds by using different types of pasta, vegetables, or meats. The creamy poppy seed dressing recipe in this article is a great addition to your repertoire and can be used in many other dishes.

I encourage you to try out this recipe and share it with your family and friends. Whether you are looking for a light meal or a potent side dish, Poppy’s Pasta Salad Recipe will never disappoint. So go ahead and cook this dish today and see just how amazing it tastes!

Poppy's Pasta Salad

Poppy’s Pasta Salad Recipe

This tantalizing dish is the perfect solution for busy ladies (like me) who need quick, easy dishes to take to summer cook-outs, church dinners, etc. This is my own variation of the hundreds of pasta salads I've tasted over the years. I get raves from every one, especially my Grandfather....thus the name "Poppy's Pasta Salad." The extra care taken in preparing the vegetables (as you'll see) makes this recipe great for people with Diverticulitis.
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Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Italian
Calories 609.5 kcal


  • 16 ounces tri-color spiral pasta
  • 16 ounces deli ham
  • 1 large tomatoes
  • 1 large cucumbers or 1 large zucchini
  • 4 ounces kraft parmesan cheese (Shredded is best)
  • 2/3 cup kraft Italian dressing
  • 1/8 cup margarine
  • salt & pepper


  • Begin by boiling the Rotini in a large pot. I salt the boiling noodles, but you can make your own choice about that if you need salt-reduced recipes. Drain the Rotini well, and place in a very large mixing bowl to cool.
  • Place 1/4 stick of Margarine aside to melt (or melt it for 10 seconds in the microwave).
  • While the Rotini is cooling, you should prepare the vegetables. Dice the sandwich ham into small 1/2 x 1 inch strips. Set it aside.
  • The cucumbers and tomatoes should be prepared with care to enhance taste. I despise soupy salads in which the cook tossed in tomatoes oozing with seeds and pulp. Here's what I do. For the cucumbers, cut the ends off with a good knife. Use a potato peeler to peel strips of the skin off. I leave some skin on -- in "stripes" for color.
  • Cut the cucumbers in half so that you are left with two shorter pieces. Now cut those two short pieces into fourths, as though you were going to make pickles strips. Very carefully, cut into each strip about an inch deep so that you actually cut off the seeds! Cut the remaining strips into 1/2 pieces for the salad.
  • The tomatoes should also be treated carefully. Leave the skin on, and cut the tomato into fourths. Take a small spoon and pull out the pulp and seeds that are exposed. Then cut the tomato pieces into small 1 inch cubes.
  • Place the diced ham, cucumbers, and tomatoes into the Rotini. Stir thoroughly. Pour 1/2 jar of Shredded Parmesan Cheese into the mixture, then stir it in evenly.
  • Now, pour in the melted margarine & some Italian dressing to taste. I don't give specific measurements for the dressing, since some of you like more of it than others. Use your own discretion.
  • This recipe is always a winner, and makes it seem like you worked harder to prepare it than you actually did :).

Your Own Notes


Serving: 282gCalories: 609.5kcalCarbohydrates: 66.2gProtein: 30.5gFat: 24.4gSaturated Fat: 7.6gCholesterol: 59.7mgSodium: 1757.6mgFiber: 4gSugar: 5.3g
Keyword < 60 Mins, Beginner Cook, Easy, Potluck, Summer
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