Italian Pasta Salad is a cold summer salad perfect for picnics, potlucks or grilling dinners. Full of fresh vegetables and herbs, salami, mozzarella cheese, tossed in an easy homemade Italian dressing. It’s easy and delicious!
This flavor packed salad is always a favorite. It’s fast to prepare (about 20 minutes) and tastes even better the day after it is made.
It’s a great ‘make ahead’ recipe for a side dish. Or a refreshing chilled main dish during the hot summer months. It’s always a favorite for potlucks!
Pasta Salad Ingredients
- Rotini (or other favorite bite-size pasta)
- Cherry Tomatoes
- mini Mozzarella Balls
- Salami slices
- Black Olives
- Red Onions
- Italian Parsley
- Parmesan Cheese
This recipe is very versatile! If you love another vegetable, add it! Something you don’t love, take it out.
- Bell Peppers (red, yellow, orange or green)
- broccoli florets (cut small)
- sliced zucchini or summer squash
- marinated artichoke hearts
- sun dried tomatoes
- Summer Sausage
- Feta Cheese
Make it Vegetarian by leaving out the salami.
Italian Dressing Ingredients
The dressing for this salad recipe is fast and simple to make! It’s a homemade Italian dressing. Perfect for this salad or to use on tossed green salads too.
- Olive Oil
- Red Wine Vinegar
- fresh Garlic Cloves
- Granulated Sugar (just a touch!)
- Italian Seasoning
- fresh Basil
- Salt and Pepper
Everything goes into the blender for a smooth, tangy dressing!
The Color of the Dressing
The color of the dressing will be related to the color of the olive oil. Olive oil can be green, yellow or almost without color.
Depending on which color is used, the dressing may be green as shown in these photos or more of a golden brown.
How Much Dressing does it Make?
The total volume of the dressing recipe yields just under 1 1/4 cups dressing. There is plenty of dressing to add as much or little as preferred.
If you prefer a more lightly dressed salad, save the rest to toss on before serving leftover portions to perk them up if needed. OR use it on other salads.
What Type of Pasta to Use?
Bite-size pasta works best for this recipe. Any type with ridges, curls, or little openings are perfect. The dressing and herbs get into all of the nooks and crannies!
Rotini (spiral shaped) is a favorite type because of all of the ridges.
Other great choices include:
- farfalle (bowtie or butterfly)
- cellentani (curly tubular with ridged outside)
- penne (short cylinder with diagonally cut ends)
Make it Gluten-Free!
To make this recipe gluten-free, swap in a gluten-free bite-size pasta. I love Tinkyada brand for the texture and flavor. It comes in multiple shapes too.
NOTE: Gluten-free pasta is not as sturdy as traditional wheat varieties.
Be sure to toss the salad ingredients together gently to ensure the pasta holds its shape.
Pro Tips for Making Italian Pasta Salad
Don’t overcook the pasta. The pasta needs to be cooked ‘al dente’ and not overcooked. This will give the best texture for the pasta salad.
The pasta need to be cold. This is for a few reasons:
- If it’s warm it will absorb the dressing. We want the dressing to coat the salad ingredients, not absorb INTO the pasta.
- If it’s cold it won’t be sticky which is a better texture for the salad.
In addition to rinsing the pasta with cold water after cooking it, I recommend shocking it by placing it briefly into an ice water bath. Instructions are included in the recipe card below.
Make all the ingredients the same size. If the ingredients in the salad are the same size it’s easier to serve and eat. That’s why the tomatoes are halved and other ingredients are cut into specific sizes.
If substituting other ingredients cut them to be similar size to the rest of the salad ingredients.
Chill the salad. Mix and chill the pasta salad at least 30 minutes before serving. This lets the flavors combine for best results. This pasta salad is even better the following day!
Adding the dressing. To keep the salad fresh and flavorful, 3/4’s of the dressing (slightly less than 3/4 cup) is added before the salad chills.
Add enough to fully coat the ingredients. The remaining 1/4 of the dressing may tossed in right before serving if needed.
If not refrigerate it to freshen up leftover servings if the salad ingredients has absorbed the dressing. OR use it on tossed green salads.
Keep in an sealed airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Do not freeze this salad.
More Salad Recipes You’ll Love!
Italian Pasta Salad
- 1 pound Rotini pasta or other bite-size pasta type
- 2 cups Cherry tomatoes halved
- 8 ounces fresh mini Mozzarella Balls drained
- 6 ounces Salami slices cut into 1/2-inch wide strips
- ¾ cup Black Olives (pitted) rinsed and halved, or use sliced olives
- ½ cup Red Onion diced
- ½ cup fresh Italian Parsley chopped
- ¼ cup fresh Basil chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan Cheese topping
Pasta Salad Dressing:
- 1 cup Olive Oil
- 1/2 cup Red Wine Vinegar
- 2 cloves Garlic
- 1 teaspoon Granulated Sugar
- 3 teaspoons Italian Seasoning
- ¼ cup fresh Basil
- 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper
- Cook the pasta as instructed on the package (do not overcook!). After it has cooked, drained and rinsed in cold water, place the colander in an ice bath (see notes) for a few minutes. It should all be chilled to the touch. Drain and set aside to fully cool.
- While the pasta is cooking…In a large bowl, stir all the salad ingredients together, except for the grated Parmesan. Set aside.
- For the Dressing: Add all pasta salad dressing ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour 3/4's of the salad dressing (enough to coat the salad ingredients) over pasta salad ingredients and stir until well combined. Chill at least 30 minutes before serving. NOTE: can be made the day before serving.Additional salt and pepper may be added after tasting if desired.
- When serving: toss with the remaining 1/4 of the dressing (if needed or desired), garnish with grated Parmesan cheese and serve.NOTE: Extra dressing may be refrigerated to freshen up leftover servings of the salad or used on tossed green salads.