Easy Pasta Salad & DNA #ScienceSundays

by Erin

You can’t have a picnic or backyard cookout without an easy pasta salad. Toss your favorite pasta shape with vegetables, cheese, and Italian dressing for the perfect summer side dish.

Easy Pasta Salad #thespiffycookie #sidedish

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Happy National DNA Day! To celebrate I made an easy pasta salad with rotini pasta because it looks DNA double helix. But before I get into the recipe, let’s talk a little science for #ScienceSundays!

What is National DNA Day?

National DNA Day celebrates the discovery of DNA’s double helix by James Watson and Francis Crick using X-ray crystallography created by Rosalind Franklin in 1953 and the completion of the Human Genome Project 50 years later in 2003 ted in 1989). The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), one of 27 institutes and centers that form the National Institutes of Health (NIH), encourages organizations to host events celebrating National DNA Day from January through May of each year, offering opportunities to learn about the latest advances in genomic research and explore what it may mean for our lives.

I may not be an organization, nor am I hosting an event, but as a classically trained geneticist, I figured it was a great topic to briefly cover and correlate to food in some way. 

Easy Pasta Salad Assembly

What is DNA?

DNA is like a recipe with instructions for our body to grow and function. Actually, an even better analogy is comparing DNA to the coding of a computer program but instead of a series of 0s and 1s, it’s made of nucleotides denoted by As, Ts, Gs, and Cs. It’s the language of DNA. 

Despite how different humans many appear from one another, we actually are 99.9% identical genetically. A more startling fact is that only 1% of our total DNA actually contains sequences known as genes, which code for those instructions. The regions outside of that 1% regulate what/when/how/how much of that gene and its product is made. 

Since DNA is more or less a code, it first must be translated in messenger RNA (or mRNA which is commonly heard term these days with the COVID-19 vaccines) which then is translated into proteins that have various functions.

Easy Pasta Salad Ingredients

How is genomics used?

The human genome project and advances in genomics have changed the way we do science. When the project first started in 1989, they were sequencing the entire genome by hand, but now its digital. Heck now you can spit into a tube and 6 weeks later you have results from places such as 23andMe (referral link). 

With the help of genomics, we are also learning how life works and disease occurs. Those genes I mentioned? They can have slightly different sequences, or be damaged, which may cause disease, and sequencing can identify and possibly even diagnose rare diseases when classic medicine fails. Of course this work has raised ethical and social considerations which is why experts in these fields have been involved since the beginning.

Another benefit comes at a social level. This information shows that we are more alike than we are different, that we have a more diverse history than many people expected, breaks down the traditional notions of race but instead a beautiful continuum, and promotes conversations about race in a positive way with perspectives of similarities instead of differences. 

What to learn more? Here are some great review videos on DNA and the Human Genome Project.

Easy Pasta Salad #summersidedish #cookout

DNA-Shaped Easy Pasta Salad

So what does all that have to do with pasta salad? Mostly just the fact that the DNA double helix resembles the rotini pasta shape. However there is a Science of Macaroni Salad TED talk about how it can be used to explain how everything is made of molecules. But that goes even deeper than DNA.

This pasta salad, unlike understanding genetics, is quite simple. Just mix up cooked rotini (or your favorite pasta shape) with chopped broccoli, red bell pepper, salami, cheddar, olives, and Italian dressing. Of course since it’s more of an assembly rather than a recipe, you can easily change the various components based on your preferences. Want mozzarella instead of cheddar? By all means! I actually used gluten-free chickpea pasta from Barilla.

Easy Pasta Salad #summerside #picnic

Three years ago: Chocolate Sugar Cookies

Five years ago: Root Beer Pancakes

Six years ago: DIY Anthopologie Inspired Confetti Tumblers

Seven years ago: Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Chess Pie

Eight years ago: Chicken Mango Quesadillas

Nine years ago: Chicken & Spinach Alfredo Pizza

Ten years ago: Cake Batter Fruit Dip

Easy Pasta Salad #thespiffycookie #sidedish


Yield: 10 servings Prep Time: Cooking Time:
Nutrition facts: 200 calories 20 grams fat


  • 1 lb. rotini pasta (I used Barilla chickpea)
  • 1 large head of broccoli, florets trimmed and diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 8 oz. cheddar cheese, cubed
  • 5 oz. sliced salami, diced
  • 2.25 oz. can sliced black olives, drained
  • 16 oz. bottle Italian dressing
  • Garlic, red pepper, salt and black pepper, to taste.


  1. Cook pasta 2 minutes past al dente. Drain and let cool.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the broccoli, pepper, cheese, salami, and olives. Add cooled pasta and dressing and stir until evenly distributed. Season to taste.
  3. Refrigerate until ready to serve.


You can change out any ingredient you wish: pepperoni for salami, mozzarella for cheddar, tomatoes for peppers, different shaped pasta, etc.

Did You Make This Recipe?
I want to see! Tag me on Instagram at @TheSpiffyCookie and hashtag it #TheSpiffyCookie.

Source: Bob’s mom

Did you make this recipe? I want to see!
Tag @THESPIFFYCOOKIE on Instagram and hashtag it #THESPIFFYCOOKIE

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Susan April 25, 2021 - 12:12 pm

Erin, your discussion of genetics took me way, way, way back to when I was in college in the 1960s. I remember studying bacteriophages in genetics class. And, even better, I took an anthropology class called “The Concept of Race”, from a well-known physical anthropologist, which pointed out that if you lined up everyone in the world according to racial characteristics, you would have a continuum with peaks and valleys – and no way to separate out particular races. That’s the one thing I remember from that class. I’m currently reading Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson, and even though I’ve studied basic genetics and have been into biology for the vast majority of my life, I still find myself envying people who truly understand all that stuff. My brain just doesn’t wrap around that extremely complicated and detailed stuff. I’m glad you posted this discussion.

Erin April 26, 2021 - 8:08 am

Fascinating that they were teaching that over 50 years ago and still we continue to divide ourselves and fight against one another. Just goes to show how deep rooted it is and how much work needs to be done.

I’m glad you enjoyed it! I could talk about genetics for hours but I tried to keep it short(ish). I will have to look up that book.


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