Do you love a great Italian pasta salad recipe? This Zesty Italian Pasta Salad is made with all you favorite ingredients! Made with tender tri-color rotini, along with salami, fresh mozzarella, crisp veggies and a homemade Italian dressing make this pasta salad recipe perfect for any occasion!
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Do you love a great side salad that can also be a mean in itself? This Zesty Italian pasta salad is just that! Made with salami, fresh mozzarella and loads of fresh veggies, this Italian pasta salad recipe is fantastic as a side or by itself as a light lunch.
This pasta salad recipe is perfect for your next cookout, potluck or BBQ with friends and family. It goes wonderfully with grilled chicken, burgers, chops, steak and salmon!
What is in Italian pasta salad?
- Tri-Color Rotini Pasta
- Hard salami
- Grape Tomatoes
- Sliced Black Olives (3.8 oz. can)
- Green Bell Pepper
- Red Onion
- Fresh mozzarella pearls
- Grated Parmesan cheese
- Fresh parsley
- Fresh basil
- Homemade Italian Dressing
For exact ingredient amounts and full recipe instructions be sure to scroll down to the bottom of the post for the recipe. Thanks!
How do I cook pasta for pasta salad?
Here are a few tips to ensure your pasta is cooked perfectly and doesn’t get soggy once in the salad:
- Cook the pasta according to the al dente package directions and no more. If the package does not give you al dente cook time, take one minute off the standard cook time for the pasta.
- Once done cooking, drain the pasta immediately and rinse well with cold water. This will stop the pasta from cooking and becoming sticky or gummy. After draining, don’t let the pasta sit in the colander, as it will begin to stick together. Instead, transfer to a sheet pan to cool.
- To chill the pasta for your salad, place the pasta in a single layer on a sheet pan and refrigerate. This will help your pasta be cold when going into the salad with the other ingredients, and can be served right away when tossed together.
How long do I cook pasta for pasta salad?
The box or package directions will give you a regular cook time and an al dente cook time. When cooking pasta for pasta salad, only cook it to al dente or even 30 seconds short of al dente.
Once the pasta is mixed with the dressing, it will absorb the dressing and soften. A slightly overcooked pasta will quickly become soft, gummy and will easily tear or fall apart after refrigeration.
Ingredient Substitutions and Recommendations:
- Pasta: If you cannot find tri-color rotini, feel free to use regular rotini or any other medium-sized pasta, like bow-tie, penne, rigatoni, fusilli or gemelli.
- Hard Salami: I purchased a full 9 oz. salami, which I thickly sliced and then quartered each slice. If salami is unavailable or you would like to use something else, mini pepperoni are a great option, and they are already cut.
- Mozzarella Pearls: These are the perfect size for a pasta salad. However, if you cannot find pearls, feel free to get a large ball of mozzarella, slice and cut into small pieces.
- Italian Dressing: I’ve included my homemade Italian dressing recipe in the recipe card below. Would you prefer to use store-bought bottled dressing? If so you’ll need 1 cup of the prepared dressing.
For exact ingredient amounts and full recipe instructions be sure to scroll down to the recipe at the bottom of the post. Thanks!
What vegetables are good in a pasta salad?
For this Italian pasta salad, I chose grape tomatoes, green bell peppers, black olives, red onions, as well as fresh parsley and basil. Other options would be to add fresh chopped broccoli florets, yellow banana peppers (pepperoncini’s), red, orange or yellow bell peppers and/or artichoke hearts.
Making the Italian dressing:
This homemade Italian dressing is a go-to dressing for this salad, as well as my Italian Grilled Chicken Salad. It’s fantastic to make and keep on hand for dressing a quick lettuce salad or even marinating chicken.
To make this dressing, simply combine the olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, minced garlic, garlic powder, dried oregano, dried basil, crushed red pepper flakes, garlic salt and ground pepper in a bowl. Whisk together to combine.
When all of the salad ingredients are chopped and the pasta has chilled, the dressing can be poured over the top. Toss together well to combine and coat all ingredients.
Love making your own dressings at home? Check out some of my other dressing and dip recipes:
- Creamy Poppy Seed Dressing Recipe
- Greek Yogurt Ranch Dressing
- Healthy Caesar Dressing
- Greek Yogurt Veggie Dip
Frequently asked questions about making pasta salad:
Before serving, it is best to chill a pasta salad 1-2 hours. This gives the dressing a chance to integrate with the rest of the ingredients and for the pasta to become cold.
A pasta salad can sit out at room temperature for 1-2 hours at most. If the salad is outdoors where temps are warm (like a cookout, picnic, or pot-luck), it is usually best to discard any leftover salad after the event.
If kept in an airtight container, refrigerated, a pasta salad can last for up to 5 days. After the second day, you may need to add extra dressing, as the pasta will likely absorb what was initially put on the salad.
Yes. Once the pasta is done cooking, pour into a colander or strainer to drain the pasta water. Immediately rinse with cold water to stop the pasta from cooking. For best results, don’t let the pasta sit in the colander, as it will begin to stick together. Instead, transfer the pasta to a sheet pan and refrigerate. This will chill the pasta and it won’t stick together.
If you’re planning to make pasta salad for an event or gathering, making it up to one day ahead is fine. Keep the pasta salad refrigerated in an airtight container. Before serving, you may need to add extra dressing, as the pasta will likely absorb much of the dressing.
What do I serve with Italian pasta salad?
Pasta salad is great with grilled chicken, pork chops, burgers and salmon. Here are some of our favorite recipes that would go great with this Zesty Italian Pasta Salad:
- Grilled Boneless Chicken Thighs (pictured above)
- Grilled Steak Kabobs
- Italian Grilled Chicken
- Grilled Caprese Chicken
- Brown Sugar Balsamic Grilled Chicken
- Lemon Pepper Grilled Chicken
- Cilantro Lime Chicken Recipe
- Mini Turkey Meatloaf – Italian Meatloaf Recipe
- Baked Italian Chicken
- Air Fryer Turkey Burgers
- Apple Cider Glazed Pork Chops
- BBQ Grilled Chicken Drumsticks
- Honey Bourbon BBQ Pork Chops
Love summer salads? Check out some of these other favorites:
- Lemon Orzo Pasta Salad
- Healthy Broccoli Salad with Apples and Cherries
- Cucumber Tomato Avocado Salad
- Classic Macaroni Salad
- Watermelon Cucumber Salad
- Peaches and Cream Pretzel Salad
- Strawberry Cheesecake Fluff Salad
If you loved this pasta salad recipe, check out some of our other similar recipes:
Zesty Italian Pasta Salad
The ultimate side dish for any cookout, picnic or pot-luck, this Zesty Italian Pasta Salad is always a hit. Made with a homemade Italian dressing, this pasta salad is loaded with salami, mozzarella, veggies and tender tri-color rotini pasta.
- 12 oz. tri-color rotini pasta
- 1 c. hard salami, thickly sliced and quartered
- 1 pint, grape tomatoes, halved
- 1 (3.8 oz.) can, sliced black olives
- 1 lrg. green bell pepper, chopped (about 1 cup)
- 1/2 c. red onion, chopped
- 1 (8 oz.) container, fresh mozzarella pearls, drained
- 1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 c. fresh parsley, finely chopped
- 1/4 c. fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
Homemade Italian Dressing:
- 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 c. red wine vinegar
- 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice (juice of 1 lemon)
- 2 tsp. minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 1 tsp. dried basil
- 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/2 tsp. garlic salt
- 1/2 tsp. ground pepper
- Start by mixing the dressing: In a small bowl whisk together the EVOO, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, garlic powder, oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, garlic salt and ground pepper. Set the dressing aside.
- Fill a large stock pot or Dutch oven with water 2/3 full and cook the rotini pasta only to al dente. (see package for ad dente cook time) Immediately remove from heat, drain and rinse with cold water to stop cooking. Pour pasta onto a sheet pan and refrigerate to cool. This will prevent the pasta from sticking together while cooling.
- While pasta is cooling, chop the ingredients: salami, tomatoes, peppers, onion, parsley and basil. Drain the olives and mozzarella, and grate the Parmesan if you're using a larger wedge. Add these ingredients to a large mixing bowl.
- To the mixing bowl, add in the cooled pasta to the rest of the ingredients and pour the dressing over the top. Toss the pasta, vegetables, meat and cheese together to coat well.
- Salad can be served right away or chilled until serving time.
Pasta salad will keep refrigerated for up to 5 days stored in an airtight container.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 10 Serving Size: 1 cup
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 281Total Fat: 20gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 14gCholesterol: 30mgSodium: 581mgCarbohydrates: 16gFiber: 2gSugar: 2gProtein: 9g
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