Pasta salads are so popular here in the States . . . and for good reasons: they’re delicious, easy, and can be prepared in endless ways to suit our individual preferences. A classic Macaroni Salad is a perennial favorite side dish. I cannot get enough of it and given a choice I actually prefer it over potato salad. I think it’s the tangy, savory-sweet dressing that coats each little piece of pasta in a macaroni salad.

And this creamy dressing is, well . . . simply superb!

A delightful hint of garlic adds a pop of extra flavor that your tastebuds will love!

Plus this salad is loaded with fresh, crisp, crunchy veggies from all the colors of a rainbow (well, there’s not any blue in this recipe). Don’t you just love colorful recipes? Mmmm! A delight to our eyes and our tummies!

So get ready to bring another hit to your next get-together, whether that’s a backyard cookout, potluck, or picnic!

Pasta salads are not popular in Italy! I’d lay bets on you finding one on any menu in any venue in Italy. You might see them in an eatery catering American casual food, but that’s not Italian. In fact, my father, who was 100% Italian, turned his nose up at any cold pasta recipe. To him, it just wasn’t natural to eat pasta in a salad form or heaven forbid . . . cold!

So I did my homework and discovered that I was, in fact, right: Italians (in Italy) do indeed turn their noses up at the sight of macaroni salad. Although we always think of Italian recipes whenever ‘pasta’ is included, pasta salads are a PURE AMERICAN creation and it’s here in America where you’ll find some real die-hard fans.

Dagostino Pasta, based in New Orleans where a large population of Italians live, stated that macaroni salad came about from blending cultural foods in the immigrant city. Italians brought pasta, Germans brought mayonnaise-based dressings, and Italian Jews introduced using cold, pre-cooked pasta to avoid their prohibitive act of cooking on Shabbat (citation: The Nosher). And don’t you just LOVE Hawaii? Well, macaroni salad is a cornerstone side dish in the land of aloha and an absolute must in Hawaiian plate lunches served in local diners and at family picnics (citation: Food & Wine).

You know the routine . . . gather all of your ingredients, measured and ready to make this yummy macaroni salad!

Here are the yummy ingredients you’ll need to create the best Macaroni Salad ever. You’ll find the exact measurements in the recipe card that I’ve provided for you below.

  • Elbow Macaroni: The main star of the show, obviously! Traditionally, elbow-shaped pasta (macaroni) is used, but you can also use farfalle (butterflies), fusilli (twisted tubes), penne (plain tubes), or whatever your heart desires! I also recommend using the smaller-sized elbow macaroni instead of the larger size. Cook your pasta al dente and not fully soft or your pasta will easily fall apart! And you don’t want that to happen!
  • Mayonnaise: And I might make some Southerners angry with this note: we use MIRACLE WHIP! And it’s simply because we LOVE the tanginess of M.W. versus plain, regular mayonnaise. But it’s a total personal preference. We recommend either Blue Plate Real Mayonnaise (from New Orleans) or Dukes.
  • Sour cream: Full fat, my friends. This is not a diet, low-cal food, so go for the gusto with the full-fat stuff! With mayo or Miracle Whip, sour cream is the perfect combination of creaminess for the tasty salad dressing.
  • Red (Purple) Onion: I love the flavor and beautiful color of red/purple onions. Adds a sweeter onion flavor and a lot of visual appeal with its bright color! If you find the flavor of red/purple onion too strong and overpowering and want to reduce the sharp flavor of red/purple onion, then simply soak the diced onion in cold water for about 5 minutes and drain to cut down the tanginess.
  • Cheddar Cheese: Use medium to sharp cheddar for better flavor. Experiment with other cheeses too, such as Fontina. Buy the cheese in a block form and then cut it into small chunks.
  • Celery: For more crunch and another layer of flavor.
  • Carrots: Add more color, crunch, and sweet flavor.
  • Red pepper: No other vegetable can beat red peppers for their sweetness. Add more if you like; the vivid color adds so much visual pop to the salad.
  • Green Pepper: Although more subtle in flavor than red peppers, the extra crunch of another bell pepper is a winning ingredient!
  • Dijon Mustard: Thank the French for this amazing condiment! Just a tad adds new life to this and any recipe! Mmmm!
  • Vinegar: Whether you use apple cider, white, or champagne vinegar, remember that ust a little bit goes a long way. Don’t use a lot or you’ll end up having to add a lot more sugar to balance it out. Remember, you can’t take wet ingredients out once you’ve added them!
  • Sugar – Use just a tad at a time (1 Tablespoon at a time) and then stir and taste to help balance out the tangy dressing.
  • Garlic – A must to jazz up the dressing. If you don’t have any fresh garlic on hand, it’s OK to use garlic powder — about a half teaspoon per garlic clove.
  • Onion Powder: Mixes up the dressing a little bit more. A nice addition.
  • Salt and Pepper: Freshly cracked sea salt and black pepper if possible. Not a major flavor breaker if you don’t have it on hand.
  • Basil: For the ultimate Italian twist on recipes (besides garlic and tomatoes!), it just adds a nice, different flavor to top off the salad with a distinctive finishing touch.

Ham: If you want to add protein, ham is a nice sweet addition. Yummy!

Peas: Oh yes, especially the tiny, petite spring peas that are ever so sweet . . . use either fresh or frozen. No need to cook them, just add them in.

Sweet Pickle Relish: (Optional) I didn’t use it in this version, but I will often add it. The macaroni salad almost becomes a potato salad with pasta instead of potatoes with pickle relish added. And that’s not a bad thing!

Hard-boiled eggs: Chopped up, they add another layer of flavor and thicken the dressing up the same way that they do in potato salad.

Diced red pimentos: Really add some extra tanginess and ruby red color!

Green or black olives: For even more flavor variety in your macaroni salad!

Start by preparing the dressing first, following the photo step instructions above.

Super easy!

Bring a tall pot of water to boil and cook the pasta until al dente and not for the time that the package instructions say or you’ll overcook the pasta . . . boil for no more than 5 minutes. WHY: because pasta continues to cook long after it’s even out of the hot boiling water.

Once your pasta cooks to al dente (remember 5 minutes!), drain it in well, and YES, do run cold water over the pasta to STOP the cooking. You don’t want mushy pasta noodles! Yes, some of the starch may be removed from the pasta, but it’s a choice between over-cooked pasta (yuck) and a little extra starch that none of us need in a salad.

A drizzle of olive oil will prevent the macaroni from sticking together if you need more time to prepare the dressing.

Once your dressing is done, simply pour it on and it’s ready in a snap!

Macaroni Salad

There are a gazillion recipes for macaroni salad. Everyone has their own unique twist . . . I’m on that bus, that’s for sure! Always make a recipe that satisfies you and your loved ones, if you feel the recipe needs it. That said, here are some tried and true points for incredible macaroni salad results:

  • Use fresh or frozen vegetables — it’s all about the flavor and the texture!
  • If you don’t care for dairy, substitute plain Greek yogurt in place of the sour cream. The flavor difference isn’t noticeable and you still get the same desired level of creaminess.
  • Give your macaroni salad a good chill in the fridge before serving to allow the flavors to marry and blend beautifully. The flavors intensify with this added chill time! An hour is a good start, but you can always prep this the day before and chill it overnight. What a great time saver.
  • If it seems that the pasta has soaked up too much of the dressing before your serving time, just add a bit more mayonnaise or Miracle Whip to your preference level.
  • Don’t just limit your macaroni salad to the basic ingredients. Experiment and add other veggies, meat, and cheeses to the mix!

If you have any of this delicious Macaroni Salad left over, it’s a great keeper stored in the fridge for up to 4 days. The crunchy veggies hold up their firm texture, as do the pasta and cheese cubes.

Store your macaroni salad in a nice airtight container or a bowl covered with cling wrap.

Do not freeze. The mixture doesn’t stand up well in the freezing temperature and everything turns out mushy when thawed out.

Since macaroni salad has both mayonnaise and sour cream in it, don’t leave it out at room temperature or warm outdoor temperatures, for more than 1 or 2 hours. Keep it chilled to prevent it from spoiling.

Kitchen equipment and tools I use for this recipe:

Good cutting boards in a variety of sizes — this Smirly set of 3 boards (and stand) has over 14,000 + reviews!

Set of cutting knives and block – this set has over 29,000 + reviews!

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Macaroni Salad Outstanding and Loaded

Macaroni Salad ~ Outstanding and Loaded

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star 5 from 2 reviews
  • Author: Roz | La Bella Vita Cucina


Take your classic Macaroni Salad and amp it up with a creamy, dreamy dressing just LOADED with crunchy and colorful veggies that everyone will beg for more!


Units Scale

For the Dressing:

  • 11/2 cups mayonnaise (preferably Hellmann’s, Blue Plate, or Miracle Whip)
  • 1 cup full-fat sour cream
  • 2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • 2 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar (or to taste)
  • 2 tsp. salt (freshly cracked sea salt, preferably)
  • 2 tsp. black pepper (cracked black pepper, preferably)
  • 1 Tbsp. vinegar (white, apple cider, or champagne vinegar)
  • 1 cup finely diced carrots (3 large carrots, peeled)
  • 1 cup finely diced celery (2 – 3 stalks)
  • 1 large red pepper, finely diced
  • 1 large green pepper, finely diced
  • 1 red onion, finely diced
  • 1 cup medium to sharp cheddar cheese, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil

For the Pasta:


  1. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil.
  2. Add pasta and cook until al dente, no more than 5 minutes.
  3. While the water is boiling, make the dressing.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, whisk all of the dressing ingredients (see photos):
  5. After the pasta has cooked for 5 minutes, drain the noodles well and rinse with cold water to stop the pasta from cooking.
  6. Add the dressing and season to taste with additional salt, pepper, onion powder, and/or sugar (see photos).

Serve and ENJOY!


xo ~ Roz


  • Serving Size: 1 cup
  • Calories: 336
  • Sugar: 5 g
  • Sodium: 250 mg
  • Fat: 19 g
  • Saturated Fat: 5 g
  • Carbohydrates: 30 g
  • Fiber: 3 g
  • Protein: 7 g
  • Cholesterol: 15 mg

So how do you make macaroni salad? If you try this recipe, please let me know how it was! Leave a comment for everyone to read and I’ll get right back in touch with you!

I hope that you enjoy this recipe among many others shared with you on this blog! Please be sure to leave a review below. Also, I’d love it if you’d follow me on Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, and youTube (just getting started on yT)!