Total Time
Prep: 20 min. + chilling
There's nothing better than a creamy ham pasta salad tossed with crisp veggies and a cheesy dressing. Easy, comforting and oh-so-satisfying, it's the perfect side for picnics and potlucks.

Updated: Jun. 11, 2024

Everyone needs a go-to pasta salad recipe in their repertoire, and one that sneaks in a bunch of veggies plus a little protein is definitely a winner in our book. This sensational, summer-worthy dish works as a side or a main course, and the best part is, it can be made ahead of time, then taken out of the fridge when you’re ready to serve.

Bursting with savory ham, vibrant vegetables and a delectable dressing, this ham pasta salad is a marriage of textures and tastes that promises to elevate any backyard barbecue or al fresco dinner party.

Ingredients for Ham Pasta Salad

  • Pasta: The star ingredient for any pasta salad is macaroni. We especially love shells for this summer-friendly side, but it would be just as tasty with elbow macaroni or a short-cut noodle like fusilli or farfalle.
  • Ham: Any kind of cooked ham will work here. Just be sure to cube or dice it into small pieces that are similar in size to the tomatoes and peppers, for uniformity.
  • Green pepper: For a bit of color and crunch, we love bell peppers in ham pasta salad. Although green feels like the classic choice, you can use red, yellow or orange if you prefer—even a jalapeno pepper if you want more heat.
  • Tomato: Tomatoes lend a fresh, sweet note to this pasta salad and play nicely with the pepper and onion. Although we prefer fresh vine-ripened cherry, plum or any kind of heirloom tomato, you can use canned chopped tomatoes in this recipe.
  • Onion: For a bit of tangy-sweet texture, chop up a Vidalia onion and add it to your pasta salad. Since we’re using raw onions for this recipe, we would steer clear of red onions, which can be too intense in flavor, but white onions and shallots are good to go.

Dressing:

  • Miracle Whip: This old-fashioned ham pasta salad recipe relies on a classic binder, Miracle Whip, but if you prefer regular mayo or a nondairy alternative, go right ahead.
  • Milk: In addition to Miracle Whip, milk helps keep the dressing nice and creamy and the pasta salad moist. Since we’re using only 2 tablespoons, full or low-fat milk will do, but keep in mind that nut milk may alter the taste.
  • Parmesan cheese: Because every pasta salad is better with cheese.

Directions

Step 1: Cook your pasta

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook your pasta according to the package directions. It’s important not to overcook the macaroni, since you don’t want mushy pasta salad. Cooking it a minute or two under the recommended time, or al dente, will give you firmer noodles that hold up better with a wet dressing.

Step 2: Chop your veggies and ham

Next, chop the ham, pepper, tomato and onion into equal-size cubes and add to a large bowl.

Step 3: Add the pasta

Once the macaroni is fully cooked, drain it and let it cool, then add it to the bowl with the ham and vegetables.

Step 4: Make the dressing

In a small bowl, combine the Miracle Whip, Parmesan cheese, milk and salt, then pour the dressing over the rest of the ingredients in the large bowl, giving it a few good mixes until fully coated.

Step 5: Refrigerate, then serve

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for three to four hours, or overnight, before you serve it so all the flavors have a chance to develop fully. Sprinkle with additional Parmesan before serving.

Ham Pasta Salad Variations

  • Add peas: Ham and peas are an ingredient match made in heaven for pasta salad and rice dishes. Frozen peas work great here, once thawed and added to the mix, although you could also use fresh peas for an added boost of homemade flavor.
  • Swap pancetta or bacon for ham: If you don’t have leftover ham on hand, there’s no need to buy a whole ham or cook one. Pancetta, or Italian cured pork belly meat, is already cubed in convenient packages made for pasta salad. All you have to do is crisp it up in a pan like you would bacon, although you could also use bacon if that’s what you have.
  • Go nuts: A handful or two of roasted pine nuts would add a nice crunch and a nutty quality to this creamy pasta salad.
  • Get cheesy: Mozzarella pearls would fit right in with the rest of the ingredient lineup in this pasta salad and balance the saltiness of the ham with milky, sweet cheese.

How to Store Ham Pasta Salad

Since this is a dairy-heavy dish, you want to avoid leaving it in the blazing sun outside at a picnic for hours. Keep the salad in a shady spot when it’s being served—even better if your platter or bowl has a lid—then quickly transfer any leftovers to an airtight container to keep cool in the fridge afterward.

How long does ham pasta salad last?

This salad is too good to let any go to waste. So pack up those leftovers! They’ll stay well preserved in the refrigerator for three to five days without going bad. Enjoy the rest for weekday lunches or quick sides for midweek dinners, since ham pasta salad tastes great cold, at room temperature or straight out of the fridge with a spoon.

Can you freeze ham pasta salad?

Yes, although we don’t recommend it. Oil-based, homemade pasta salads tend to hold up better in the freezer than mayo-based salads, and since this ham pasta salad contains Miracle Whip, milk and cheese, you run the risk of the texture and flavor being compromised once it thaws.

Ham Pasta Salad Tips

Should you let your pasta cool before making the pasta salad?

Yes. Pouring this Miracle Whip dressing over hot pasta and veggies can ruin it, so be sure to let your macaroni cool completely before tossing it with the other ingredients or the dressing. The last thing you want is broken, soggy noodles.

What if my pasta salad tastes dry?

Mix more of the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and pour over the salad. Be sure to go lightly though. It’s easier to add a little more at a time than to try to make an overly wet pasta salad less wet.

How do you make pasta salad less bland?

Try adding fresh herbs like oregano, parsley or basil. You can tap a few dashes of powdered ranch or Creole seasoning into the bowl if you’re looking for a more flavor-packed ham pasta salad.

Ham Pasta Salad

Prep Time 20 min
Yield 6 servings.

Ingredients

  • 1 package (7 ounces) shell macaroni, cooked and drained
  • 2 cups cubed fully cooked ham
  • 1 cup chopped green pepper
  • 1 cup chopped tomato
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • DRESSING:
  • 1/2 cup Miracle Whip
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Additional Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, toss macaroni with ham, green pepper, tomato and onion. In a small bowl, combine Miracle Whip, Parmesan cheese, milk and salt. Pour over pasta mixture and stir to coat. Cover and refrigerate.
  2. Sprinkle with additional Parmesan before serving.

Nutrition Facts

1 cup: 366 calories, 20g fat (4g saturated fat), 35mg cholesterol, 865mg sodium, 30g carbohydrate (3g sugars, 2g fiber), 15g protein.

I "invented" this salad as I went along...it's a combination of various pasta salad recipes I'd seen. It can be served as a side dish, of course. In summer, however, my husband doesn't care for hot meals, so I make it as a main dish. We're recent city transplants with two young children, ages 6 and 3.