When you hear the words "pasta salad", it's hard not to think of those little tubs at the supermarket, bound in a mayonnaise-like substance, the pasta overcooked and chilled to a tasteless mush. On the whole, not inspiring.
But if you don't have access to a microwave at work, then making pasta meant to taste best at room temperature is a lunchtime no-brainer. It's versatile - approach it in the same way that you might invent a pasta sauce for dinner, roasting whatever veg is in the fridge, or using up the last of that jar of olives. And it's easy to prepare - you can make it the night before work and leave overnight for the flavours to develop, though it's also quick enough to make in the morning. Just don't add mayo.
• Choose an appropriate shape. You want pasta that you can easily impale or scoop with a fork, so spaghetti is out. Smaller is better: rice-like orzo, conchiglie, orecchiette (ie the shell family), macaroni, penne or that old fave, fusilli, all work well.
• Clumping is a classic pasta pitfall. Avoid it by draining it well, drizzling with a little olive oil then giving it all a good shake together and leaving to cool on a plate.
• Seasoning is key to a good pasta salad, as is a strong dressing. A classic dijon or wholegrain mustard vinaigrette works well, as does mint and basil whizzed up in a food processor with some oil, a little bit of crushed garlic and a squeeze of lemon juice. Garnish with extra fresh herbs just before eating so that they don't wilt and turn brown.
• If you want a herby hit, but don't have fresh herbs to hand, then shop-bought pesto makes an excellent dressing base. Mix a large spoonful with olive oil and a splash of lemon juice or vinegar to thin out before combining with the pasta. Add some peas, slices of jarred or tinned artichokes or some crumbled goat's cheese (or any cheese you fancy).
• The juice of roasted cherry or plum tomatoes and/or a red pepper makes a delicious, flavour-filled dressing. Roast with a splash of olive oil and some salt and pepper until they start to brown and bubble, then mix the pasta into the roasting tin with the juices, scraping at any good crusty bits on the side until its all incorporated. You could also add some very finely diced chorizo, or a couple of anchovies in the last five minutes of cooking the tomatoes.
It may be a salad by name, but controversial as it may be, we don't think this is the time or place for anything too crunchy, so save that carrot in the fridge drawer for tomorrow's pitta.
Caroline Craig and Sophie Missing are authors of The Little Book of Lunch (Square Peg)
Add a herby hit, some sun-dried tomatoes, a good strong dressing to pasta - and remember smaller is better. Illustration by Hennie Haworth for the Guardian Illustration: Illustration by Hennie Haworth/Guardian