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Potluck Pesto Salad

For a Crowd


The dilemma of what to bring to a potluck party. Not the same thing as anyone else - not something so unordinary it does not fit in. I faced this question this past week as we were invited to a July 4th celebration. A friend has a huge gathering every year with a rock band, a compact roller coaster for kids, games galore, psychic readings, swimming with basic foods like burgers, dogs and beverages. The host requests we bring some edibles to share. As a chef I try to bring an interesting and ample donation. As it is summer and outdoors, there are some considerations; the food must be able to withstand a couple of hours without refrigeration. There is ice available and chafing dishes for hot foods but food safety is important. With that in mind, it’s best to avoid foods that cannot stand the heat of the day or exposure to the bright sun.

I decided to make a pasta salad with some interesting ingredients and flavors and avoid any mayonnaise based dressings. Here is a grand recipe that, as a side dish among many, would serve 30 to 40 guests. This recipe can be scaled down and there can be many substitutions according to personal taste or ingredient availability.



  • 2 pounds short pasta, such as bow ties

  • 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in half

  • Corn kernels from 2 ears of cooked corn on the cob, about 1 1/2 cups

  • 1 ½ cups pitted black olives, chopped

  • 1 bunch scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced

  • 1 eight ounce jar sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil. Drain, reserve the oil, and cut the tomatoes julienne

  • 1 eight ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped

  • 2 twelve ounce jars marinated artichoke quarters. Drain, reserve the liquid

  • 1 twelve ounce knob of fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2 inch dice

  • 1 cup roughly chopped parsley

  • ½ cup prepared basil pesto

  • 2 large cloves of garlic, grated

  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

  • 2 tablespoons sugar

  • 2 teaspoons salt

  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper


  • Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain well and plunge into cold water and drain again or spread on sheet trays and refrigerate until cold

  • Put the reserved sun-dried tomato oil, reserved artichoke liquid, pesto, garlic, vinegar, olive oil, Parmesan, sugar, salt, black and crushed red pepper in a bowl and whisk until well blended

  • Place all of the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl. Pour the dressing over the salad and mix gently

  • If not serving in the mixing bowl, place the salad in the serving bowl and refrigerate until serving time

  • If traveling to a remote destination, I suggest putting the salad in a sealable tub, or tubs, and transport in a cooler. Then put the salad in the serving bowl when you arrive at your destination

This recipe is for a good-sized crowd. Don’t like sun-dried tomatoes? Substitute with grape tomatoes. The same goes for roasted peppers, just sub in raw red bell peppers. I’ve witnessed recently that not many people bring desserts; a completely different alternative.

All in all, I wish you the best time at your next potluck gathering. If you bring this salad, expect some oohs and ahhs when you arrive.