Aunt Pam's Pasta Salad

Aunt Pam’s Pasta Salad

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I want to say right with sincere candor, that I am not a trained chef nor do I hold myself out to be one.  I am a simple southern cook who started out married at 17 years old with very little.  When my girls were young, we gathered with our extended family to enjoy a good meal together on a regular basis.  I generally cooked the meals and it was always a struggle to make a dish that the adults and children would appreciate. 

My favorite sister in law, Cindy, had three children at that time (she now has five which I give her props for!) and my two nephews, Little John and Zachary and my sweet little niece, Taylor, were very picky eaters.  Lord, my goal in life was to find one meal which they would eat.  So over 25 years ago, I went on a mission.  To find something that they all three would eat.  I knew they loved pasta, cheese and meat.  But one liked pasta with sauce and two liked pasta with no sauce.  So that narrowed my search.  I knew they also liked ham, pepperoni and cheese.  So, I purchased bow-tie pasta (Farfalle Pasta) mainly because I thought they were cute (perfect reason to buy pasta) and also because I thought the kids might enjoy them.  I then gathered pepperoni, ham, cheddar cheese and Parmesan cheese because of course all three liked Parmesan cheese on their pasta. 

But then to decide on a sauce.  Red was out, white was out so I went out on a limb and purchased basil pesto.  I know that was a crazy choice but I was willing to try anything and thought what the heck.  And that is where it all started – Aunt Pam’s Pasta Salad.  And believe it or not, they all three loved it.  To say I have made hundred of bowls of pasta salad would be an understatement.  This recipe has been requested at more family celebrations then any other. 

I then shared this recipe with my one and only sister, Belinda, who lives in Tennessee and her children, my nephew, Justin and my adorable little niece, Summer also loved it.  Who knew that children would eat pasta with pesto?  This also became a recipe that my sister was asked to make at so many family events that we now laugh at it. 

One of the most important things about this recipe, is do not and I repeat, do not let the children see the jar of basil pesto.  I mean seriously children tend not to eat green veggies right.  So for 25 years I have never showed the children the pesto jar.  If my nieces and nephew knew I added something green to this pasta it would have been a no go from the start.   

I now have five grandchildren of my own – Mia, Clay, Ashton, Peyton and Noah.  This is one of the few recipes that they all love and will all eat second helpings.  I love to make this pasta in the summer after a day at the beach or the pool because you can cook the pasta and throw it all together within thirty minutes. One thing I love to do is make the pasta with basil pesto, meat and cheeses and have lots of tiny bowls of extras for the adults.  My girls and I love, love olives.  I make little bowls of olives, artichoke hearts, prosciutto, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, sun-dried tomatoes and shaved Parmesan so the adults can add the goodies that they love. 

This recipe can be adjusted using your family’s favorites.  Make this pasta your own. If your family loves chicken then add chicken.  If your family loves another shape of pasta then use that.  If your children will eat the veggie pasta then absolutely use that pasta.  I love to spend time with the family in the summer and I love making meals which are quick and easy in the summer.  This recipe is most definitely a family favorite and I encourage you to try it out on your kiddos to see if they love it the same way my young ones do. Enjoy!!!

I am including the ingredients for a simple batch of pasta salad.  I always double this recipe because when I make pasta salad I have to have the entire family over which is typically about 14 people.  If you are making it for 4-6 people a single batch is ideal.  But if you want leftovers or if you are  feeding a larger family you will need to double the recipe.

Aunt Pam’s Pasta Salad

Recipe by Cooking with Aunt PamCourse: PastaCuisine: ItalianDifficulty: Easy
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  • 16 ounce box of Classic Farfalle (bow-tie) pasta

  • 8.1 ounce of Basil Pesto

  • 6 ounce block of Sharp Cheddar Cheese (cut into cubes)

  • 6 ounce bag of finely shredded Parmesan cheese

  • 5 ounce bag of Mini Pepperoni or 3.5 ounce bag of regular Pepperoni

  • 8 ounces of cubed ham

  • 1/2 teaspoon of Kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon of finely grated pepper


  • Cook the pasta.  Bring 2 quarts of salted water to boil in a large pot of medium high heat.  Add the pasta and cook until all dente – 9 to 11 minutes depending on your preference of firmness of pasta.
  • Drain pasta well and add to a large bowl and let pasta cool for 5 minutes.
  • Add the pesto, ham, and pepperoni and stir well. Add the cheddar and Parmesan cheese and toss pasta. Please feel free to add any other sides your family prefers. I like to add Greek olives and grilled artichokes with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar to my bowl. If you make small bowls of extras like cucumbers, red onion, and/or cherry tomatoes, each person can fix their bowl of pasta with all their favorites. Enjoy!!!


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