Although a pasta salad entree already contains everything you would want in a meal, side dishes provide either a counterpoint to the salad or a little more of something to balance out the meal and make it feel complete. Either way, look for sides that contrast with the salad in terms of flavor, texture, temperature or color to add interest to your meal.
A vegetable side dish adds freshness to a pasta salad entree whether or not the salad already contains vegetables. Serve vegetables to eat with your fingers so they are set apart from the salad, and serve them on the side of the salad or on a separate plate. Choose simple vegetables such as a bowl of olives or raw snap peas. Or, serve cooked vegetables, such as corn-on-the-cob, roasted broccoli or roasted sweet potatoes fries.
Something With Crunch
Pasta salads typically contain crunchy ingredients, but extra crunch in a side dish also balances the smooth pasta. A small serving of crunchy garlic bread or bread sticks does the trick, as do tortilla or pita chips. Make your own spicy chips by cutting corn tortillas or pita bread rounds into quarters, spraying them with cooking spray, sprinkling them with salt and cayenne pepper, and roasting them in a 350-degree Fahrenheit oven for about 12 minutes, turning them once.
A small amount of extra protein in a side dish helps reluctant salad-eaters in your family accept a pasta entree. Serve the protein dish as finger food to make a clear distinction between it and the salad, and choose something different from what's in the salad itself. For example, serve grilled shrimp with a pasta salad containing salami or sliced ham, or serve pigs-in-a-blanket – hot dogs wrapped in pastry – with a three-bean and feta cheese pasta salad.
Juicy Fruits or Tomatoes
A fruit or tomato side dish brings freshness and juiciness to your entree – simply place a bunch of grapes, a few apple slices or a quarter-wedge of watermelon alongside the salad. Or, use another plate for a slice of cantaloupe you've already peeled to make for easy-eating. For a more elaborate side if your salad doesn't already have tomatoes, cut tomatoes in half, drizzle them with oil, vinegar and minced garlic and bake them in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about three hours or until they collapse into half their size.
Susan Lundman began writing about her love of cooking, ingredient choices, menu planning and healthy eating after working for 20 years on children's issues at a nonprofit organization. She has written about food online professionally for ten years on numerous websites, and has provided family and friends with homemade recipes and stories about culinary adventures. Lundman received her M.A. from Stanford University.