Picnic Perfect Pasta Salad

Happy Wednesday! This is Stephanie from Steph in Thyme.
Today, I’m sharing a simple, yet crazy delicious pasta salad that’s perfect for a summer picnic.
So perfect, I have no other choice but to call it Picnic Perfect Pasta Salad.

Picnic Perfect Pasta Salad l Steph in Thyme for Busy Mom's Helper

After the long weekend, I still have picnics on the brain. All I want to eat is food fresh from the grill along with an array of diverse sides running along the length of an outdoor table. That’s not too much to ask, right?

I love summer not for the warm days or trips to the beach, but for the large potluck gatherings and picnics. I love exploring recipes I wouldn’t ordinarily make at home for CJ (the husband) and myself, like this homemade Lox recipe for example.. Cooking and baking for a crowd is so much more fun. 

Picnic Perfect Pasta Salad l Steph in Thyme for Busy Mom's Helper

All picnics need a pasta salad, a scoop of carby goodness on the side of the plate (or, my entire plate) to energize the lawn games and activity until the sun sets. Creamy mayo-based pasta salads, glorious as they are, can feel so heavy. It’s also tricky to keep them chilled outdoors, especially on a warm day.

A tangy peanut dressing lightly coats the pasta, giving it that “must have more” essence – but without the guilt. This dressing isn’t loaded with lots of peanut butter or even added oil. It consists of creamy peanut butter (only three tablespoons for the entire pasta salad), gluten-free soy sauce, lime juice, unseasoned rice vinegar, water, and red pepper flakes. Blended until smooth, it’s a flavorful and mayo-less way to mix things up at your next picnic.

Picnic Perfect Pasta Salad l Steph in Thyme for Busy Mom's Helper

If you’re attending a picnic with gluten-free guests, this pasta salad is an excellent addition to the buffet table because everyone can eat it. And those who aren’t gluten-free won’t notice a difference.

I prefer to use Fusilli pasta for this salad because I find it easier to eat. In addition to holding the sauce better, preventing it from pooling at the bottom of the bowl, the spirals and ridges make it easier to piece the Fusilli with your fork. And the pasta stays on the fork, too! Penne, with its smooth surface, tends to slide or fall off the fork, especially with sauce coating it. Elbows and smaller pasta will work, as long as you have spoons on hand.

I mentioned that gluten-free soy sauce is used in the peanut dressing. Soy sauce actually contains wheat and is one of those hidden dangers for those following a gluten-free diet. Now, if you’re going to a picnic where gluten isn’t an issue for any of the guests, you can certainly use regular soy sauce as well as regular pasta.

Picnic Perfect Pasta Salad l Steph in Thyme for Busy Mom's Helper

The peanut sauce adds tang, but the medley of fresh veggies bring color and texture. Red bell pepper and cucumber, thinly sliced scallions, shredded carrots, cubed avocado, and shelled edamame. If you don’t like the peanut sauce, I have used our recipe for Texas Roadhouse Italian Dressing recipe in it’s place and it is so delicious!

I love the contrast between the crunchy vegetables and the creamy soft avocado, especially when it’s perfectly ripe. The edamame give this salad a boost of protein, so if all you want to eat at the picnic is this pasta salad, it’s at least a well rounded meal.

Picnic Perfect Pasta Salad l Steph in Thyme for Busy Mom's Helper

I would love to hear from you! What’s your favorite picnic dish? Are you known for any particular potluck recipe?

Picnic Perfect Pasta Salad


For the salad:

  • 12 oz gluten-free or regular Fusilli pasta cooked and rinsed
  • 1 red bell pepper seeded and diced
  • 1 cucumber seeded and diced
  • 2 scallions both white and green parts, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 1 cup shelled edamame
  • 1 avocado seeded and cut into 1/2 " cubes

For the peanut dressing:

  • 3 tbsp creamy peanut butter
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tbsp gluten-free or regular soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper to taste


  • Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine the bell pepper, cucumber, scallions, carrots, edamame, and avocado. Set aside.
  • Add the peanut dressing ingredients to a blender, blending until smooth.
  • Add the rinsed and drained pasta to the bowl with the vegetables. Pour the peanut dressing over top. Toss to combine, adding additional salt and pepper, if needed.
  • Serve immediately, or store in the fridge for a few hours prior to serving.

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