5 Easy Ways To Elevate Your Caesar Pasta Salad

We've all seen plenty of Caesar salad wraps on our social media timelines, but Caesar pasta salad is one of the latest trends to use the classic ingredients. In 2023, you might have noticed those viral TikToks featuring Caesar pasta salad recipes with rich and tangy dressing, romaine, croutons, parmesan, and sometimes chicken mixed with pasta like rotini. The core ingredients pair deliciously in the form of pasta salad, but since it's already a twist on the original recipe, there are plenty of other ways to elevate it further with ingredient swaps and add-ins.

The trend is still popular among foodies and food influencers today, likely because Caesar dressing is an effortless upgrade to pasta salad. The flavors of anchovy, lemon, and parmesan cheese found in Caesar dressing plus crunchy croutons and leafy greens provide a comforting bite. Meanwhile, pasta salad is another nostalgic dish so it's basically a fusion of two classic side dishes into a complete meal. To upgrade it further, check out our ideas to switch up the protein, make it spicy, and even toss other greens into the bowl.

Switch up the protein

Chicken is a common ingredient in the salad at many eateries, so use the protein and follow Tasting Table's Caesar chicken pasta salad recipe — or switch it up with another type of protein. For any fans of shrimp pasta salad, make a Caesar pasta salad with grilled or sauteed shrimp for a seafood flare. You might order a traditional Caesar salad with a steak dinner, so cook off our grilled hanger steak recipe then toss it into your bowl of Caesar pasta salad.

There are also other ingredients to add protein to Caesar pasta salad if you don't eat meat or want to keep it vegetarian-friendly. Chickpeas are a flavorful source of plant-based protein and work in this pasta salad straight out of the can, roasted to add crunch, or made crispy with our crispy chickpeas recipe. You could also use tofu, the classic ingredient for many vegans to obtain protein, in your pasta salad. A final way to add a dose of protein is to use hard or soft-boiled eggs like you might already add to classic pasta salad.

Give it bolder and spicier flavors

Sure, the ingredients in a classic Caesar salad are quite delicious, but any foodie who appreciates bolder or spicier flavors will want to step up the flavor game in their pasta salad. There are a few household ingredients you can effortlessly add to the Caesar pasta salad to infuse spice like chili crunch oil, pickled jalapeños, hot cherry peppers from the jar, or a dash of crushed red pepper.

For deeper layers of bold flavors, add Calabrian chiles, Dijon mustard, Thai chili paste, chilis in adobo sauce, or the brine from a jar of hot peppers to make a homemade spicy Caesar dressing. You can also add hot sauce to the Caesar dressing with the help of our ranking of the best grocery store hot sauce brands.

If you plan to add some of those protein options we suggest, you can also season it for another layer of spice. Make a spicy marinade with chipotle peppers in adobo sauce for smoky heat or spices like paprika, cayenne pepper, or ancho chili powder for chicken or shrimp to toss into your spicy Caesar pasta salad.

Add crunchy toppings

Croutons are a staple in Caesar salad, and the crunchy ingredient is still essential in pasta salad. To keep it classic, make homemade croutons with stale bread, or check out Tasting Table's ranking of the crouton brands. Another way to add crunch with a finer consistency is to toast bread crumbs and then toss them into the Caesar pasta salad.

Bread isn't the only way to add crunch to your Caesar pasta salad, however. For meaty umami, add crushed bacon or store-bought bacon bits. You might have had cheese crisps in a Caesar salad at some eateries, so add our keto parmesan crisps to the pasta salad for crunch and cheesiness. Or, roast lentils to make the grains crunchy to add texture and protein to the pasta salad. You don't want to stray too far from flavors that match Caesar dressing, but many other toppings that add crunch to conventional salads like seeds and fried onions also work in the pasta salad.

Toss in some leafy greens

Caesar salad typically consists of romaine lettuce and there is no reason why the greens shouldn't also go into this pasta salad. There are many different greens that are perfect for salads with varying tastes and textures and they work in Caesar pasta salad too. Kale Caesar salads are rather popular at trendy salad shops and eateries, so add some chopped kale to the bowl for dense and leafy greens.

You don't have to stick with romaine or kale though. Arugula is a good option to add mildly peppery flavors to Caesar pasta salad while butter lettuce will add buttery sweetness. Don't hesitate to experiment with whatever other salad greens are already in the fridge. Just make sure to finely chop the lettuce for balanced bites and don't use too much or it will soak up a lot of the dressing rather than clinging to the pasta.

Use more vegetables

Besides lettuce, other vegetables don't necessarily make it into classic Caesar salad. But we're talking about Caesar pasta salad here, so there's a good reason to add other veggies to the bowl like you might add to a traditional pasta salad. You might have been served a Caesar salad with tomatoes, so add a handful of sliced cherry or grape tomatoes for acidity and sweetness in the pasta. Red onions, either raw or pickled, also add zest to cut through the rich creamy dressing and pasta.

There are also many other vegetables that pair well with Caesar dressing. Consider vegetables like carrots, celery, or radishes for more crunch, or add roasted veggies like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, or cauliflower for a nice charred flavor. Elevate the salad further with endive (with this tip to temper the endive's bitterness) paired with radicchio as a final upgrade to your bowl of Caesar pasta salad.