Italian Pasta Salad
This Italian Pasta Salad is one of my favorite pasta salad recipes! This easy pasta salad recipe is loaded with rotini pasta, fresh veggies, olives and cheese in a delicious Italian dressing. This classic side dish is perfect for any summer meal!
Serve this pasta salad with turkey burgers, grilled chicken, baked chicken thighs or Instant Pot chicken thighs or with a soup like minestrone soup for a soup and salad meal. This pasta salad recipe is extra delicious with my favorite easy Italian dressing!
Best Pasta Salad
This healthy pasta salad is one of my favorite easy pasta recipes! Pasta salads are so simple to make: just boil the pasta, add a few other ingredients, and stir in a tangy dressing.
We make this pasta recipe year-round, for BBQ’s and potlucks in the summer and as a make ahead lunch any time of year. You can add some baked chicken to this cold pasta salad to make it a meal.
I love to make pasta salad with Italian dressing because the dressing soaks into the pasta and flavors every bite. You can use store-bought salad dressing or my easy homemade pasta salad dressing in this recipe. I recommend trying my homemade Italian dressing because it takes just five minutes to make! It’s also healthier, made with simple, recognizable ingredients.
Italian pasta salad is perfect for making ahead because it tastes even better on the second day, after the flavors have had time to meld together. I’ve included my favorite pasta salad ingredients in this recipe, and I’ve listed more pasta salad ideas below. As is, this recipe is vegetarian but you can add salami or chicken.
How to Make Pasta Salad
Cook the Pasta
To maximize your time, you’ll want to start by cooking the pasta. Then, while the pasta cools you can prepare the rest of the ingredients.
I recommend cooking the pasta in salted water because the salt will flavor the pasta. Cook the noodles until they are barely al dente – this means that when you taste the pasta it has a little bit of a bite to it. You don’t want your pasta over-cooked for pasta salad because it will be too soft and may fall apart.
Rinse the cooked pasta under cool water so that it begins to cool and to stop it from cooking more. Drain the noodles well. Then transfer the pasta to a large bowl and set it aside to cool while you chop the vegetables. Stir the pasta every once in a while to keep it from sticking together.
Chop the Veggies
While the pasta cools, chop the vegetables. You’ll need two bell peppers, grape or cherry tomatoes, red onion and black olives. You can add in other veggies, too. Shredded carrots, cucumber, artichoke hearts or roasted red peppers would also be delicious!
Prep the Remaining Pasta Salad Ingredients
Cut the mozzarella cheese into small cubes and chop some fresh parsley. I like to add fresh herbs to my pasta salad because they brighten up the flavors. Have some shredded or grated Parmesan cheese ready, too.
Stir in the Salad Dressing
Add everything to the bowl with the pasta and stir in the dressing. You’ll want to mix everything together now, and then stir again when you are ready to serve the pasta salad.
Chill and Serve the Cold Pasta Salad
This salad tastes best cold, so I recommend making it at least a few hours ahead of time, or the day before you plan to serve it. While the pasta salad chills, the dressing will soak into the noodles and veggies, giving them lots of extra flavor.
Taste the pasta salad right before serving and season it with salt and pepper to taste. This Italian pasta recipe is guaranteed to become a family favorite!
Pasta Salad Ideas
If you’re wondering what to put in pasta salad, the possibilities are endless! What are your favorite pasta salad ingredients? Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Veggies/Fruits: In addition to the vegetables in this recipe, you might also try artichoke hearts, cucumber, peas, sun-dried tomatoes, zucchini, asparagus, carrots, broccoli, green onions or kalamata olives. Most veggies can be added to pasta salad raw, but you might want to briefly cook asparagus.
- Meat: Salami is often included in Italian pasta salad recipes. You could also try adding chicken or sliced sausage.
- Cheese: Try fresh mozzarella, cheddar, pepper jack, feta, goat cheese, and of course, Parmesan cheese.
- Fresh herbs: Use your favorites! Parsley, basil, thyme, dill, or other herbs that you enjoy.
- Try chopping the ingredients into different shapes or shredding some of them. For example, you could either shred carrots or chop them up into small pieces.
Tips for this Italian Pasta Salad Recipe
- I love making this salad with whole wheat pasta. It’s hearty, healthy and most people don’t even notice the difference!
- You can use your favorite pasta shape – I recommend either rotini, penne or spiral. Using tricolor rotini is an easy way to add even more color to your pasta salads.
- Be careful you don’t overcook pasta for cold pasta salad. You want the pasta to have a little bite to it and you don’t want the noodles to fall apart in your salad.
- Be sure to let the pasta cool before adding the other ingredients because you don’t want to warm the veggies and cheese.
- Chop the vegetables into small pieces so that you get a little bit of everything when you take a bite!
More Pasta Salad Recipes
Italian Pasta Salad
- 1 pound rotini or penne pasta, white or whole wheat
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
- 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
- ½ cup chopped red onion
- 3.8 ounce can sliced black olives, about 1 cup
- 4 ounces mozzarella cheese, cubed (1 cup)
- ½ cup shredded or grated Parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 cup Italian dressing, store bought or homemade
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions for al dente. Drain, rinse with cool water, then drain well and transfer to a large bowl.
- Set the pasta aside to cool while you prepare the remaining ingredients, stirring the pasta occasionally to keep it from sticking together.
- While the pasta cools, chop the vegetables and other ingredients.
- Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl with the cooled pasta. Stir in the dressing until well combined. Taste and season with extra salt and pepper as needed.
- Chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving. Stir pasta salad again right before serving. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed, serve.
- Pasta salad can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.