Cozy BBQ Buddy: Summer Macaroni Salad In Lemon-Thyme Dressing, Creamy With A Tangy Twist

Summer Macaroni Salad

For me, lemons go with the bright yellow summertime the way that pumpkins go with the fiery-orange fall. The tangy taste of a fresh lemon reminds me of a clean, crisp breeze, or perhaps the way one of the rays of the sun would taste if it stretched itself thin enough that it could reach me and ever so gently touch my tongue. The fresh flavor of lemon informs so very many things that we put into our mouths in this golden season of warmth; it informs everything from the cold beverages that we thirstily gulp down such an icy, cherry-lemonade or a tart, lemon slush, to the perfectly chilled desserts we allow to linger extra long on our tongues, such as lemon meringue pie or frozen lemon-curd bars. But the wonderful use of lemon doesn’t end with perfectly sweet treats or tall, frosty drinks; not at all. The glorious summer lemon can leave its zingy essence, its wonderful presence, on some of our favorite, savory summertime side dishes, putting a simple, tangy little twist on all things of a summer-y nature.

Summer Macaroni Salad

Summer Macaroni Salad

The addition of lemon in food is a welcome addition in my book. I usually squeeze a touch over just about everything; as everything, in my opinion, tastes a little more “alert” and awake with a gentle and zippy kiss of lemon on it. With outdoor grilling and BBQ-ing in full gear in the summer months, side items such as green salads and classic macaroni pasta salads become much-reached-for staples, and those can so colorfully benefit from a hint of lemon to bring out their best. Cool and creamy macaroni pasta salads are a favorite for many of us to add to the festive spread at a lively gathering; and adding the brightness from some lemon zest and fresh lemon juice can perfectly “lighten up” the flavors a bit. Lemon adds that little twist of uniqueness to a rich and creamy dressing; and along with fresh thyme, smoky and salty pancetta and bright, emerald-green peas, a common macaroni pasta salad gets a bit of gourmet upgrade, making it a refreshing and elegant BBQ buddy to add as a classic accompaniment to the classic summertime gathering.

Summer Macaroni Salad

Summer Macaroni Salad

If the summertime had a flavor that I could actually taste, I have a small hunch that the flavor would be of lemons. Those juicy, colorful and tangy little glowing orbs that offer a sharpness and zing to all they come in contact with make the taste of this season come alive with vibrancy. A cool and creamy macaroni salad kissed with a hint of fresh lemon and herbs will liven up your get-together and wake up everybody’s taste buds, making everyone glad that it’s summertime, indeed. So go ahead and raise your ice-cold glass of cherry lemonade, and take a nice, big bite of a sweet ‘n tart lemon bar; but don’t forget to raise your fork filled with creamy Summer Macaroni Salad, and take a lemon-y bite out of this perfectly “yellow” and sunny season.

Taste what’s good and pass it on.


Summer Macaroni Salad

Summer Macaroni Salad with Crispy Pancetta and Petite Peas in a Bright & Creamy Lemon-Thyme Dressing
Print this recipe

(Serves about 6)

12 oz salad-size macaroni pasta, cooked according to package instructions and cooled
1cup frozen petite peas, thawed
4 oz diced and crisped pancetta
• Creamy, Lemon-Thyme Dressing (recipe below)
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, for garnish


-Add the cooked and cooled macaroni to a large bowl, and add in the thawed petite peas and the diced, crisped pancetta; if serving immediately, toss with the Creamy, Lemon-Thyme Dressing, and garnish with the thyme leaves; if making ahead, prepare all components and keep them separate, then toss the dressing with the pasta/peas/pancetta when ready to serve, to keep the pasta salad moist and fresh; keep cold.

Creamy, Lemon-Thyme Dressing ingredients:

¾ cup mayo
1/3 cup olive oil
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 ½ tablespoons lemon zest
1tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons sugar
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1teaspoon whole grain Dijon mustard
1teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper


-Add all ingredients into the bowl of a food processor, and process the mixture until thick and completely creamy; store in the fridge until you’re ready to serve the salad, at which point you can toss the dressing with the pasta.

{ 74 comments… add one }

  • MC June 19, 2013, 1:44 pm

    The size and shape of pasta makes such a difference to me,so I love that you used the little cylinder-shaped kind (to be technical about it, ha!) I too love lemons in spring and summer- they really do wake everything up! I am collecting summer recipes for our big RV trip out west and this one is definitely going in the collection. Thanks for sharing!

    • The Cozy Apron June 19, 2013, 4:43 pm

      Oh, that’s awesome MC! Thanks so much…I really hope you all enjoy this recipe, and that you have a wonderful and rejuvenating RV trip!!

  • Ashley @CenterCutCook June 20, 2013, 6:43 pm

    This looks delicious! I am always on the hunt for the next great pasta salad. Love your idea to use pancetta!

  • Caroline June 21, 2013, 4:54 am

    I’m so happy to have found your site! I love it! I saw this gorgeous salad on tastespotting and had to click over immediately! This salad looks so delicious! I love the bits of pancetta along with the peas in that creamy lemony dressing! I’ll be making this very soon!

    • The Cozy Apron June 21, 2013, 8:41 am

      Thank you for your kind words, Caroline; I hope you enjoy the recipe!

  • Teresa June 21, 2013, 4:24 pm

    I made this today (without the pancetta) and it is delicious! My 7 yr old is gobbling it up!

    • The Cozy Apron June 22, 2013, 6:04 pm

      Aw, Teresa – that’s precious! I LOVE it when the kids enjoy the recipes, too! Thanks for coming back to share with me…

  • Grace June 26, 2013, 8:51 am

    I made this pasta salad last night and absolutely LOVED it! I luckily had some leftovers, so I added roasted chicken and it’s made the perfect lunch today. Thanks so much for sharing, I’ll be making this over & over this summer … perfectly fresh and tasty.

    • The Cozy Apron June 26, 2013, 4:19 pm

      That sounds like an absolutely perfect lunch idea, Grace! So glad you enjoyed this little ditty…and thank you for your comments!

  • Peggy June 26, 2013, 1:51 pm

    Just made this the other day for a family get-together! I had just cut down some homemade pancetta (it’s been hanging and taking up space in our fridge for about 2 months!) and it was the perfect way to use it! Definitely something we’ll be making again and again =)

    • The Cozy Apron June 26, 2013, 4:22 pm

      You make homemade pancetta, Peggy? Wow-wee! Am I impressed. That must have tasted exquisite….and I’m so glad to hear that the recipe ended up being worthy of using it, haha! 😉 Thanks for stopping by to share, my friend…

  • Katie July 3, 2013, 2:07 pm

    I found this recipe on Pinterest and decided to try it for a 4th of July BBQ I am hosting tomorrow. I picked it for the colors and because it is a more “grown up” mac salad. The salad is fantastic! I love the bright lemon flavor with the sweetness of the peas and saltiness of the pancetta. It’s so good I’m having a hard time staying out of it! Thank you for sharing the recipe!

    • The Cozy Apron July 3, 2013, 4:14 pm

      Aw, I love that Katie! I’m always tickled when someone decides to use one of my recipes for a special occasion, or for something they’re hosting. Please have a wonderful 4th of July celebration tomorrow, and be sure to leave at least a little of the macaroni salad for the guests, heehee! :-)

  • Jenni July 3, 2013, 5:48 pm

    You are so very right about lemon brightening up everything it touches! I loved your post and the addition of lemo to your pasta salad. I’ll be trying that trick the next time I make it. And come to think of it, maybe when I make my next potato salad, too! =)

  • Heide M. July 3, 2013, 7:54 pm

    Will have to try this.

  • Dawn July 4, 2013, 6:44 am

    Made this salad today!!! Yuuuuuuum!! I did make a few little changes. I substituted half of the mayo with fat free Greek yogurt and I used fresh shelled peas…loved the fresh crunch these added! Awesome recipe, thanks for sharing

  • Rubyredlight July 4, 2013, 11:47 pm

    Yummmmm! I made this for the Forth of July today…amazing! Thank you so much for sharing!

    • The Cozy Apron July 5, 2013, 7:34 am

      My pleasure! I’m glad this little salad got to be a tasty part of your 4th of July festivities!

  • Lisa July 7, 2013, 3:26 am

    I made this yesterday and I thought it was delicious!! I love the lemon and thyme combination. Thanks for the recipe. :)

  • Cindi July 17, 2013, 7:58 am

    Made this last night and it was really good….makes a lot, though! I’m freezing half of it just to see how well it does in the freezer.

  • Tami July 21, 2013, 2:48 pm

    This was delicious! Made yesterday for BBQ with friends and everyone loved it. We just had some leftover for lunch and thought I should let you know it was a huge success! I did use bacon instead since had an open package from earlier in week. It was so good, im planning to make it again next weekend for a family BBQ :)

    • The Cozy Apron July 21, 2013, 6:09 pm

      Tami, thank you so much for sharing that with me! And please enjoy our family BBQ next weekend – so thrilled to have my pasta salad be a part of that! 😉

  • Becky July 21, 2013, 3:55 pm

    Could you please tell me the name of the pasta shape you used? It’s so pretty in the salad. Thanks! :)

    • The Cozy Apron July 21, 2013, 6:13 pm

      Thanks Becky! My box only said “salad macaroni” on it, but I found that the name is “Ditalini”, and it looks like Barilla brand has that type of pasta (the small, tube-shaped kind). Hope you enjoy!

      • Becky July 21, 2013, 7:25 pm

        Thank you so much! I’m going to make it for a party this weekend!

  • Rohna July 23, 2013, 6:53 pm

    I made this salad tonight and it was so, so good! I am having a hard time staying out of the refrigerator! The pancetta is a perfect touch. Thanks for the great recipe.

  • Beth July 27, 2013, 7:53 pm

    I am definitely going to try this! However, I am going to use asparagus spears instead of peas. Should go well with the pancetta. Thanks for the recipe! Always looking for new things to have in the summer.

  • Christa July 29, 2013, 11:29 am

    I am in love! So many of my faourite things! Would it be wrong to eat this everyday?

  • Ann August 15, 2013, 2:41 pm

    To Becky – I have used this pasta several times and it is called Ditalini. I hope this helps :) Also, I love this pasta salad as well.

  • Beth Sowell August 25, 2013, 3:12 am

    The photos for this recipe made it look so tasty I had to try it. Unfortunately, I tried to healthy it up by using greek yogurt instead of mayo. This swap out almost always works, but this time, it made the dressing much to tangy to me. I’m going to try it again with mayo. :(

    • The Cozy Apron August 26, 2013, 5:54 am

      Hi Beth! Yes, I suspect the dressing was quite tangy with the lemon and all; I smiled at your comment, as I usually try to “healthy” things up myself – but in this case, the mayo is really the best way to go. 😉

  • Jill October 14, 2013, 9:13 pm

    This salad rocks!! My husband almost ate the entire batch! I’m lucky I even got a few bites. Amazing flavor and yet so light. Thank you!

    • The Cozy Apron October 15, 2013, 11:21 am

      Jill, thanks so much for sharing that with me – on one hand, I was thrilled that the hubby really enjoyed it so much (we know how important that is, right?), but on the other hand, I felt kinda bad that you only got some scraps, haha! :-) Anyway, so happy this was a success for you!

  • Rocky Mountain Nurse March 16, 2014, 5:36 pm

    I made this tonight. It is delicious! I made 1/2 recipe, subbed bacon bits for the pancetta, and added 1 pound of chilled shrimp. I did not halve the dressing, due to the addition of the shrimp. The dressing is fabulous. Served it with garlic toast. I loved it.

    • The Cozy Apron March 17, 2014, 4:42 pm

      Ooh, that sounds delish! Perfect substitutions/additions for this particular salad, as this dressing is lemony and a bit tangy—great with shrimp! Thanks for sharing your experience with me.

  • Jo March 20, 2014, 10:06 pm

    I found this on Pinterest posted by Carson Kressley. It sounds fabulous! Will try this weekend.

  • Banana Woman April 7, 2014, 4:01 am

    Hi- this looks amazing and we’ll be having this for dinner tonight. I was just wondering if you had any awesome ideas on what to serve it with? I have a fussy 1 year old, 3 year old and 27 year old to feed 😉 Thanks so much!

    • The Cozy Apron April 7, 2014, 2:47 pm

      Hi there! If you want to keep things really simple, you could just get a rotisserie chicken at your local market—that way you have some extra protein without having to prepare anything else, and it should keep the picky eaters fairly happy! 😉

  • Natasha Price May 27, 2014, 10:00 am

    I found your recipe last year and it has become my family’s absolute favorite macaroni salad. It is now a staple at all large family gatherings. I made it again last night for our Memorial Day BBQ and was reminded how much I love love love it.
    Thank you for sharing it!

    • The Cozy Apron May 27, 2014, 2:57 pm

      Natasha, how sweet of you to share that! I’m so honored to have this salad be a “staple” item at your family gatherings—it’s the perfect way to enjoy it! :-) Thank you very much for your kind comments, and for bringing one of my recipes into your family circle.

  • I am planning on adding this to my 4th of July menu. I have one question. Do you think I could heavily whisk the dressing ingredients instead of using a food processor?

    • The Cozy Apron June 3, 2014, 11:50 am

      You absolutely can, Lisa! The processor is just a super easy way to throw everything in at once and not have to use any of your own “elbow grease”; but honestly, not that much is actually needed for this dressing, anyway. Happy whisking! :-)

  • Mardi June 4, 2014, 10:12 am

    This looks so lovely and refreshing. If I don’t have access to fresh thyme and therefore can’t garnish, how much dried thyme should I add to the dressing?

    • The Cozy Apron June 4, 2014, 3:09 pm

      Thanks Mardi! You know, you could still garnish with a sprinkle of dried thyme, no problem at all. And as far as the amount for the dressing, typically, it’s said that one should use about half the amount of dry herbs to fresh, so use about 1/2 teaspoon (or a pinch more, there’s no harm) in place of the fresh. Enjoy!

  • Melissa June 10, 2014, 2:44 pm

    I made this today…..used thick cut bacon, cooked well done & crumbled & a tad more fresh lemon. DELICIOUS!!!!!!!i will be making this again!!!!

    • The Cozy Apron June 10, 2014, 6:38 pm

      Melissa, that sounds delicious!! Happy you enjoyed this recipe, and thank you for sharing your experience with me.

  • Maureen June 12, 2014, 12:55 pm

    Just made this. It is delicious. We ate 1/2 of it “taste testing”. Will definitely make next time I entertain.

    • The Cozy Apron June 13, 2014, 1:36 pm

      Maureen, that’s precious! :-) Very happy you enjoyed this! Thanks for sharing…

  • Janet June 12, 2014, 7:39 pm

    I have two family members that are allergic to Mayo. Any ideas for a mayo substitute that would also be dairy-free (no yogurt)?

    • The Cozy Apron June 13, 2014, 1:35 pm

      Hi Janet! Thanks for your question. There’s a product called “Veganaise” that is a vegan, non-dairy mayo substitute, and you can easily use that. It’s sold at Whole Foods Market and Sprouts—perhaps other markets, as well, in their vegan section. Enjoy!

  • LAur June 18, 2014, 11:32 am

    Do you cook the peas?

    • The Cozy Apron June 18, 2014, 3:00 pm

      Hi there! No, they’re good to go; they’re blanched prior to being frozen, so once thawed, they’re perfectly fine to add just as they are.

  • Carol brooks July 7, 2014, 7:24 am

    I served this to a large 4th of July BBQ. Everyone raved about this mac salad–this is a keeper.

    • The Cozy Apron July 7, 2014, 2:47 pm

      Hi Carol, I’m so excited to read that! Thanks for sharing my recipe with your loved ones at your celebration, and thank you for taking a moment to let me know what your experience was!

  • Carly August 4, 2014, 8:03 pm

    This recipe looks amazing! I’d love to whip this up to bring to my friend’s housewarming cookout, but I don’t own a food processor. Any suggestion for getting the dressing right without one?

    • The Cozy Apron August 5, 2014, 12:04 pm

      Hi Carly, you can very easily prepare the dressing in a larger bowl using a whisk to blend everything up—the processor just makes it easier, but it’s absolutely not necessary. Hope you enjoy for the housewarming cookout!

      • Alli Hedden May 7, 2015, 6:59 am

        I just submitted a similar question and then spotted this, so no need to answer my last one. Thanks! I look forward to making it tonight.

  • Hannah August 11, 2014, 10:48 pm

    This is now my go to side dish for any BBQ I attend and it always gets rave reviews!! The last time I made it I used Rosemary and Dill instead of Thyme just to mix it up and I loved it! Thank you thank you thank you for such a fun and original recipe that makes me seem like a great cook :)

    • The Cozy Apron August 12, 2014, 2:13 pm

      Hannah, that’s so very, very sweet! And I’m sure you are a great cook—look at you making your own substitutions with the dill and rosemary! :-) So happy that you’ve been enjoying this summer salad recipe, and thanks for letting me know!

  • Karen September 24, 2014, 11:29 am

    Just wanted to let you know that this was a big hit! We have been eating this all summer long, and just can’t get enough of it! Now, at our house, when we say “macaroni salad”, this recipe is what we mean.

    • The Cozy Apron September 24, 2014, 2:50 pm

      Karen, that is absolutely precious to me, and I thank you for sharing that! So happy you’ve been enjoying this macaroni salad this past summer season!

  • Carolyn Dallara April 16, 2015, 5:08 pm

    Sounds yummy but how do you crisp the pancetta?

    • The Cozy Apron April 16, 2015, 9:01 pm

      Hi Carolyn, you crisp it the way you would bacon, in a hot pan. Hope that helps!

  • Colleen July 3, 2015, 7:22 pm

    I made this last year for a BBQ and repeated again this year for a different crowd. Both times I have received many complements and had people ask me to send the recipe. I would add another 1/2 c of peas the next time I make it. The dressing is really perfect.

    • The Cozy Apron July 3, 2015, 8:50 pm

      Hi Colleen, I’m thrilled that this recipe is getting such good reviews from the folks you’re serving it to! How exciting, and thank you for sharing that with me! I love to read that. Thank you for your comments!

  • Shannon July 25, 2015, 9:09 pm

    This salad is a great salad to make during the hot and humid days of summer. I love it!

    • The Cozy Apron July 26, 2015, 12:09 pm

      Hi Shannon! So glad you enjoyed it! We just made a batch at our house, too. :-)

  • Heidi July 30, 2015, 5:45 pm

    I’m wondering how slivered sun dried tomato (the oil packed ones from Trader Joes) will be in it . . .

  • Lindsey W. January 5, 2016, 6:10 pm

    This salad was AMAZING!! I want that Lemon Thyme Dressing on everything. I could not for the life of me find Pancetta at the store that day, so I substituted ham and it was still fantastic. Can’t wait to make it again, this time with Pancetta as intended.

    • The Cozy Apron January 5, 2016, 7:19 pm

      Haha, thanks so much, Lindsey! Great substitution, by the way. Very glad that you’re enjoying the salad, AND the dressing so much! :-) Thank you for your comments.

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