Here’s my go-to, favorite, make-it-all-the-time pasta salad! It’s full of big, bold flavors and so easy to make. This recipe is great for making ahead since it tastes even better on days 2 and 3.

Pasta salad with wooden salad servers in a glass bowl.

The Best Pasta Salad

Whenever I need a side dish for a summer BBQ, a big pasta salad is my go-to. This classic pasta salad recipe is my favorite because it’s full of zesty Italian flavors, it’s quick and easy to make, and it feeds a crowd! The bonus is that the leftovers are amazing for lunch – I love to slice up some Air Fryer Chicken Breast to add right on top of the pasta salad to make a more filling main dish salad.

This pasta salad is filled with goodies: juicy tomatoes, crisp veggies, olives, fresh parsley and two kinds of cheese. It’s all tossed in my herby homemade Italian Dressing. If you’re really pressed for time you can use store-bought dressing, but this is a case where I really believe from scratch is worth it. Especially since this dressing recipe comes together in just 5 minutes with pantry ingredients.

Pasta salad ingredients in a mixing bowl with dressing in a liquid measuring cup on the side.

How to Make Pasta Salad

  1. Cook the pasta. Boil the pasta in salted water until it’s cooked to al dente. Don’t overcook it – pasta salad is best when there’s a little bite to the noodles (and we don’t want them to fall apart). Then, rinse the pasta under cool running water and set it aside to cool.
  2. Chop the veggies. While the pasta cools, chop the veggies! You’ll need two bell peppers, grape or cherry tomatoes, red onion and black olives.
  3. Put it all together. In a big bowl, combine the pasta, veggies, cubed mozzarella cheese, Parmesan, fresh parsley and dressing. Stir everything together. Season the pasta salad with salt and pepper to taste. Chill the salad in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving.
Pouring Italian dressing on pasta salad ingredients in mixing bowl.

Don’t Skip the Chilling Time

This salad tastes best cold, after the flavors have had time to meld together and the noodles soak up the flavor of the dressing. Chill it in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving (I always try for longer). If you’re able to make it a day ahead, the pasta salad will taste even better on days 2 and 3. Taste it again right before serving, give it a good stir, and add more salt and pepper as needed. Enjoy!

Close up of pasta salad in bowl with salad servers.

Recipe Variations

I usually stick pretty closely to this base recipe, but I do have lots of ideas for how you could change up the ingredients to customize this pasta salad to your tastes.

  • Pasta: Use your favorite pasta shape. I recommend rotini, penne, fusilli or bowtie (farfalle) pasta.
  • Vegetables: Try artichoke hearts, cucumber, peas, sun-dried tomatoes, asparagus, shredded carrots, broccoli or green onions. Most veggies can be added to pasta salad raw, but you might want to briefly cook asparagus.
  • Meat: Salami is a delicious addition to this Italian pasta salad. You could also add chicken or sliced sausage.
  • Cheese: Try fresh mozzarella – bocconcini (small balls of fresh mozzarella) are fun. Or replace the mozzarella with cheddar, pepper jack or feta cheese.
  • Olives: Swap Kalamata olives for the black olives for a richer, fruity flavor.
  • Fresh herbs: My favorites for pasta salads are parsley, basil and dill.

Recipe Tips

  • Cook the pasta in salted water to flavor the noodles from the start.
  • Rinse the cooked pasta with cold water to stop the cooking process, help it to start cooling, and keep it from sticking together.
  • Let the pasta fully cool before adding the other ingredients because you don’t want to warm the veggies and cheese.
Italian pasta salad in a serving bowl.

I hope you love this pasta salad as much as we do! If, like me, you’re also a major fan of salads made with noodles, here are a few more pasta salad recipes I think you’ll love: this Mediterranean-inspired Orzo Salad, this creamy Macaroni Salad and this vibrant Pesto Pasta Salad.

Pasta salad with wooden salad servers in a glass bowl.
5 from 4 ratings

Best Easy Pasta Salad

Servings: 12 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
This pasta salad is my go-to side dish for a potluck or BBQ. It's filled with colorful veggies, olives and cheese, all tossed in a zesty Italian dressing. Make it at least a few hours ahead to let the flavors meld and develop. It's even better on days 2 and 3!

Ingredients

  • 1 pound rotini pasta, or other short pasta shape, such as fusilli, farfalle or penne
  • 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

Instructions
 

  • 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 occasionally.
  • While the pasta cools, chop the vegetables and other ingredients.
  • Add the bell peppers, tomatoes, red onion, olives, cubed mozzarella, Parmesan and parsley 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.

Notes

  • Pasta salad can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days. This is a great make ahead recipe since it tastes even better on day 2 and 3!
  • My Italian Dressing recipe makes 1 cup of dressing, which is the perfect amount for this salad.
Calories: 262kcal, Carbohydrates: 35g, Protein: 9g, Fat: 10g, Saturated Fat: 3g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g, Monounsaturated Fat: 3g, Cholesterol: 11mg, Sodium: 472mg, Potassium: 271mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 5g, Vitamin A: 906IU, Vitamin C: 39mg, Calcium: 109mg, Iron: 1mg
Nutrition information is an estimate.
Cuisine: Italian
Course: Side Dish
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