Italian Pasta Salad is a flavorful side dish with veggies, pepperoni, cheese, and Italian dressing. Perfect for potlucks and backyard BBQs.
One of my favorite things about this salad is that you can use the veggies you have on hand, swap things out for your favorite ingredients, and you can make it ahead of time!
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How To Make Italian Pasta Salad
First, bring water to a boil and cook the pasta. Drain the pasta and rinse it with cold water to cool it off. Transfer the pasta to a large bowl.
What kind of pasta should I use?
We love using tricolor rotini pasta because it looks pretty and adds color to the salad. The plain rotini pasta will work too.
You can use pretty much any variety of pasta to make pasta salad. Popular choices include small shells, penne, bowties, or cavatappi.
Here are a couple of tips when making pasta for pasta salad. Cook the pasta well. You want the pasta in the cold salad to be tender and not too chewy, so cook it a minute or two past the recommended al dente stage. Also, remember to rinse the pasta in cold water, rather than hot like you typically do with pasta, to cool it down before preparing the salad.
Next, add the chopped broccoli and cauliflower, sliced tomatoes, and diced bell peppers.
Next, add small black olives, cubed mozzarella cheese, shredded Parmesan cheese, and mini pepperoni.
Finally, pour the Italian dressing over the top of the salad.
What kind of dressing goes on Italian pasta salad?
Nothing beats the convenience of using bottled salad dressing. When making Italian pasta salad, I often use zesty Italian dressing for added flavor. But you can also make homemade Italian dressing.
Stir the Italian pasta salad until everything is evenly mixed.
Other Ways To Make It
Although this is our favorite Italian pasta salad, there are other ways you can make it! Besides adding ingredients or making ingredient swaps, you can change the dressing.
Caprese Pasta Salad
A Caprese pasta salad has the flavors of a Caprese salad with the addition of pasta! Combine cooked pasta, fresh mozzarella cheese, cherry tomatoes, and basil leaves in a large bowl. Drizzle the salad with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and coarse ground black pepper. Finish with some balsamic glaze on top.
Mediterranean Pasta Salad
For a Mediterranean version, combine cooked pasta, diced cucumbers, sliced cherry tomatoes, Kalamata olives, feta cheese, and red onions. Use a Greek vinegarette instead of Italian dressing.
Southwest Pasta Salad
Another delicious option is a southwest pasta salad. Combine cooked pasta, corn, black beans, cubed southwest chicken, diced bell peppers, and cubed pepper jack cheese. Use chipotle ranch for the dressing.
Make Ahead and Storage
- You can make pasta salad the day before and store it in the fridge in an airtight container. Being able to prepare Italian pasta salad ahead of time makes it one of the easiest side dishes to bring to parties and potlucks.
- Since the pasta will soak up most of the salad dressing overnight, you’ll need to add a little more before serving. Bring additional Italian dressing to the party, drizzle it on the salad, and stir the salad before serving.
Italian Pasta Salad Storage
- Italian pasta salad will last 3-4 days when stored properly in an airtight container in the fridge.
- Do not leave pasta salad out at room temperature (while serving, for example) for long periods of time since bacteria can multiply rapidly between 40° F and 140° F.
- You can keep the pasta salad cool during serving by putting the serving bowl in a large bowl that is filled with ice. Replace the ice often.
What Others Want To Know
No, you cannot freeze Italian pasta salad. If you try to freeze your leftover Italian pasta salad, it will become mushy or disintegrate when it thaws. It is better to make less pasta salad in the first place so you don’t have too much leftover. Try cutting the recipe in half (or in fourths), cooking only half of the pasta, and using only half of the added ingredients and dressing.
This classic Italian pasta salad includes chopped broccoli, chopped cauliflower, quartered grape tomatoes, diced red bell peppers, and diced orange bell peppers. If you want to include even more veggies, try adding diced green peppers, diced yellow peppers, shredded carrots, minced onions, sliced cucumbers, sliced asparagus, and sliced bell peppers.
In addition to chopped vegetables, I add small black olives, mozzarella cheese cubes, shredded Parmesan cheese, and mini pepperoni to our Italian pasta salad. Other ingredients that could be added include mini mozzarella balls, chopped Italian salami, minced garlic, and green olives. If you want to include some herbs try adding fresh basil or cilantro.
What goes with pasta salad?
Pasta salad goes with pretty much everything from steak and hamburgers to sandwiches and pizza. That’s what makes it such a great side dish. Here are a few of our favorite things to serve pasta salad with:
- Easy Sloppy Joes – Well loved by kids and adults.
- Cheeseburgers – Cooked on the grill or in a skillet.
- New York Strip Steaks – Make at home on the stovetop!
- Grilled Chicken – Tender, juicy, and so flavorful.
- Sandwiches – Serve with your favorite sandwiches.
More Salad Recipes
We understand because we love salads too! Here are a few of the salad recipes we make on repeat:
- Cowboy Caviar – A flavorful salad that can also be eaten with chips.
- Corn Salad – Made with fresh corn and topped with Doritos.
- BLT Pasta Salad – Tastes like a BLT with pasta.
- Spinach Pasta Salad – Topped with a creamy pesto dressing.
Italian Pasta Salad
- Cook the rotini according to the instructions on the package. Drain and rinse with cold water. Move to a large bowl.
- Add the broccoli, cauliflower, grape tomatoes, bell peppers, black olives, mini pepperoni, and mozzarella cheese. Pour the zesty Italian dressing over the salad and stir to coat.
- Top with shredded Parmesan cheese and stir.
- Cover and store in the fridge until ready to serve.
- If you make this recipe the day before serving, you can add more Italian dressing before serving if it looks like the salad needs it.
- Store in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days.