Refreshing, colorful, and zesty, this easy Italian Pasta Salad is bound to become your new go-to for potlucks, cookouts, and every kind of warm-weather hosting. It's a quintessential summertime side dish that comes together quickly and is super customizable. Perfect for serving a crowd!
We know you love a versatile recipe. So the fact that this cold pasta salad goes with just about any protein, can be made ahead, or even eaten over a bed of lettuce as a quick lunch, makes it a big-time winner. For more winning dishes like this one, try our tortellini pasta salad and Greek pasta salad next!
ITALIAN PASTA SALAD INGREDIENTS
- Rotini Pasta | Whether you use regular or tri-color, rotini pasta is a great shape for the base of your Italian Pasta Salad. Just be sure you don't overcook it!
- Italian Dressing | We are taking the easy way out with this one and enlisting the help of a store-bought Italian dressing. The Olive Garden dressing is our favorite because of its tangy parmesan flavor, but feel free to use whichever one you prefer.
- Mozzarella Cheese Pearls | There is just nothing quite like fresh mozzarella cheese. For this recipe, we opt for mozzarella cheese pearls for the best texture and the freshest flavor.
- Fresh Veggies | Fresh vegetables add so much to this Italian Pasta Salad, it would not be the same without them! We like to add red onion, red bell pepper, and grape tomatoes. These things contribute color, flavor, texture, and freshness. Don't skimp in this department!
- Italian Parsley | Italian parsley, or as some call it, flat-leaf parsley, has a stronger flavor than that of curly-leaf parsley. It will add a fresh, somewhat peppery element to your dish that you won't want to go without!
- Salami | For this recipe, you can use salami or soppressata. Whichever meat you choose will add the oh-so-important savory flavor, along with a texture that is completely unique from all of the other ingredients. We highly recommend buying a log of salami and dicing it up at home, as opposed to the pre-sliced stuff.
- Black Olives | Olives are always there to save the day when you're lacking that salty/briny element in your dish. These guys may be small, but they pack a punch.
- Parmesan | In regular Anthony Kitchen fashion, we recommend buying your cheese in a block and grating it yourself for optimal freshness and flavor. Parmesan cheese going to add just the right amount of nuttiness and bite to your Italian Pasta Salad.
HOW TO MAKE ITALIAN PASTA SALAD
It's important that pasta salads are served chilled. Be sure you plan ahead and allow enough time for at least 2 hours of refrigerated chill time prior to serving!
The first thing you want to do is cook your pasta according to package directions. For this recipe, we used classic rotini pasta. You can use regular rotini or tri-color rotini.
If you have trouble finding rotini period, feel free to sub in a penne pasta instead!
Take care not to overcook your pasta. You don't want mushy pasta salad! Pull your noodles once they've reached al dente, and strain them. To speed along the cooling process, run cool water over your noodles while still in the colander. It's important that your noodles are cooled before you add any other ingredients to the pasta salad!
Next, you're moving on to the Italian Pasta Salad dressing! Save the red wine vinegar and olive oil for another day; we called upon store-bought Italian dressing over a homemade Italian dressing for this easy pasta salad recipe! Using a store-bought dressing allows us to save on both prep time and ingredients. Our go-to is Olive Garden's Italian dressing; it's rich, tangy, and loaded with parmesan flavor.
Add your dressing of choice over your cooled noodles, and season with salt and pepper.
Now it is onto the good stuff – the add-ins!
The chopping is fairly minimal for this Italian Pasta Salad recipe. You'll finely dice 1 red bell pepper and a small red onion. You'll also halve about one and a half cups of grape or cherry tomatoes, and roughly chop up a handful of Italian parsley. These fresh veggies add amazing flavor and color to your pasta salad, in addition to providing some great texture and crunch.
If you aren't a fan of bell peppers, feel free to sub in fresh cucumber in its place. And for some serious antipasto pasta salad vibes, you could swap out the fresh bell pepper for roasted bell peppers.
Remember not to jump the gun on tossing in all those delicious veggies too soon! Warm pasta could also slightly cook the vegetables. We want those veggies to stay nice and crisp, so they'll add that crunchy element to your Italian Pasta Salad.
In addition to the fresh veggies, you will need only a few more pasta salad ingredients! Fresh mozzarella, salami, sliced black olives, and grated Parmesan cheese give this recipe some serious Italian flare.
If you want to add even more Italian flair, consider adding in some roughly chopped marinated artichokes. This is one of our favorite additions to Italian Pasta Salad!
As for the mozzarella, our preference is to use mozzarella cheese pearls, which are rather small, fresh mozzarella balls. They sometimes come in a container, suspended in water. If this is the way your fresh mozzarella is packaged, you will want to strain it before using. If you have trouble finding fresh mozzarella, you can use block mozzarella, that has been cut into quarter-inch cubes.
And, remember, if the noodles are warm when the cheese goes in, the cheese will melt!
As for the salami, take care to cut it into small, bite-size pieces. For this recipe, we prefer to purchase salami in a log form rather than pre-packaged, thinly sliced salami. You could also use soppressata if desired.
When it comes to Parmesan cheese, grated Parmesan cheese fresh off the block is always a win, but if you don't have the time to grate your own, store-bought will work just fine!
One of the best parts of making Italian Pasta Salad for a crowd is that it can be done well in advance. Believe it or not, this delicious pasta salad is even more delicious after 24 hours in the fridge.
6 MORE SUMMER POTLUCK RECIPES YOU’LL LOVE
- 7 Layer Salad
- Red Potato Salad
- Loaded Potato Salad
- Tuna Pasta Salad
- Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad
- Pesto Pasta Salad
A crazy-flavorful and super easy Italian Pasta Salad that is loaded up with veggies, cheese, and salami. Perfect for Summer!
- 12 ounces Rotini pasta
- 1 cup Italian dressing
- Generous pinch of Kosher salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons black pepper
- 1 (12-ounce) container mozzarella cheese pearls*
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 1 small red onion, diced
- 1 ½ cups grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
- ¼ cup chopped Italian parsley
- ½ cup Sopressata or Salami, diced into ¼” cubes
- 2 (4-ounce) cans sliced black olives, drained
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan
Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Transfer to a colander and run cool water over it until the pasta is no longer steaming. Set aside to drain.
Add the pasta to a large mixing bowl and pour over the Italian dressing. Add the salt and pepper and stir to combine.
Add the mozzarella, bell pepper, onion, tomatoes, parsley, salami, olives, and parmesan. Stir to combine once more and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
*Mozzarella cheese pearls are small, round pieces of fresh mozzarella cheese. If you can't find them, purchase fresh or block mozzarella and cut into ¼" pieces.