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Have you been looking for the ultimate Italian pasta salad recipe? Our salad recipe is veggie packed and kid-approved.
Pour on our easy homemade Italian dressing and your summer picnic will be bursting with the yummiest salad this side of the Mississippi.
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This recipe is popular to serve during the warm months of the year at backyard BBQ and covered dish events in the U.S. Chopped up vegetables, meats and cheese are added to a base of cold pasta. This recipeis tossed together with a vinegar and oil based Italian style dressing and is served chilled.
The whole idea behind an awesome Italian salad, is to get the texture, color and flavor balanced just right.
- Pasta: a shape that will hold the dressing well like rotini or fusilli
- Salty: capers, olives, pepperoncini, anchovies, pickled vegetables
- Fatty or Creamy: mozza balls or cubed, shaved Gouda, avocado, Provolone, Parmesan
- Crunchy or Fresh: arugula, bell peppers, spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion
- Hearty: chickpeas, toasted nuts, chick peas, salami, or pepperoni
- Brightly flavored herbs: fresh dill, fresh basil, lemon zest, or freshly squeezed lemon juice
Your goal is to have a tangy dressing, so don’t skimp on the vinegar.
- Oil: a good Italian extra virgin olive oil
- Vinegar: red wine, apple cider vinegar, white balsamic, rice wine vinegar
- Flavorings: minced garlic, minced shallots, fresh herbs and dried spices
- Sweeteners: honey, agave, maple syrup, or white sugar
What is the secret formula?
For every 7 to 8 ounces of dried pasta, add 1 pound of savory ingredients and 3/4 cup of dressing. Make sure to have extra dressing on hand, as the noddles will absorb it and more will be needed just before serving.
Can I add different vegetables?
Yes, you can swap out different vegetables to meet your needs. If you need to use up some fresh vegetables in your fridge, cut them up small and add them.
What kind of pasta can I use?
The most popular pasta to use for Italian salad is rotini. We used garden rotini for the extra color. Garden rotini has three colors: green (spinach), cream, and orange (tomato and carrot), makes this more colorful.
Some other pastas that have a solid texture and a great shape to absorb the dressing are:
Can I use gluten free pasta?
Yes, you certainly can use gluten free, but since it breaks down much faster than regular, plan to eat it all within a few hours of assembling it.
Does this recipe need to be refrigerated?
Yes, it’s best to chill it before eating because the flavors meld during this time. If you’re taking this to a covered dish event, it’s best to refrigerate or put the it in a cooler after 2 hours to keep the meat and cheese from spoiling.
How many carbs are in one cup?
There are 24.3g of carbs in one cup of Italian salad. For more nutrition information, scroll down to the recipe card.
How can I reduce the carbs?
The best way to reduce the carbs in this recipe is to change the pasta to vegetable ratio. Either decrease the noddles, or increase the vegetables and other add ins like meat and cheese.
Can you make this recipe ahead of time?
- Yes, you can make it up to one day in advance.
- Don’t add the tomatoes or cheese until just before serving, as they can get soggy.
- Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Taste and adjust seasonings before serving. You’ll need to add more dressing or red wine vinegar, as the noodles absorbs the dressing as it sits.
How long does this last in the fridge?
This recipe is best if it is consumed within 24 hours of making it. If you want it to last up to 3 days, add the tomatoes and cheese just before serving so they stay firm.
This recipe tastes great with typical American summer foods like:
- Grilled meat
- Fried chicken
- Pulled pork sandwiches
How to Make
Gather the ingredients for the dressing: olive oil, red wine vinegar, sugar, fine sea salt, and black pepper. Mince the garlic, remove the thyme leaves from the sprig, chiffonade the fresh basil, and grate the lemon zest on a Microplane.
Whisk the ingredients together in a medium sized bowl, then slowly pour in the olive oil.
Continue to whisk until the Italian dressing is well combined.
Add the chopped red onion to the salad dressing. This will give the red onion time to deflame. Let it sit for at least 10 minutes.
Gather the ingredients for the salad. I know it’s a lot, but trust me, it tastes so good. Chop, dice, slice, grate and cut into strips all these delicious veggies, cheeses, and salami.
To cook the pasta, boil the water and add 2 tablespoons of kosher salt. Stir until dissolved.
Add the tri-colored rotini to the boiling water and cook according to the package instructions. Check for doneness after the first 5 minutes.
You’ll want it al dente, which means “to the tooth” in Italian. To check, take out one piece of pasta and bite it in the middle. It should still have some ‘tooth’ to it, meaning it should be firm and not soggy.
Drain in a colander and immediately submerge the colander into an ice bath of 50% water and 50% ice cubes.
Let it sit in the colander for 5 minutes to continue cooling, then drain completely.
Transfer the cooled pasta to a large bowl. Add the savory salad ingredients: tomatoes, yellow pepper, carrots, salami, pepperonici, cucumbers, and kalamata olives.
If you are making this the night before, add the tomatoes closer to serving time.
Whisk the Italian salad dressing again and pour 3/4 cup to 1 cup of dressing onto the salad.
Mix together with salad tongs or with your hands until all the pieces are well coated with dressing. If you’re making this the night before, you’ll want to cover the salad and let it chill in the fridge at this point. If you’re making this the day of, cover and chill for 30 minutes to 2 hours. I recommend the full 2 hours.
Just before serving, add the chopped parsley, the grated Parmesan, and the strips of Provolone and toss to combine. Taste and pour on 1/4 cup Italian dressing as the noodles will absorb a lot of the first coating of dressing. Toss, taste, and adjust seasonings, until it’s to your liking. I sprinkled on a bit more salt, basil, oregano, sugar and black pepper.
Garnish with fresh basil ribbons, grated Parmesan, and freshly chopped parsley.
Enjoy by the spoonful at your next outdoor summer gathering. It guaranteed to please.
Our ultimate Italian salad will be your go to salad recipe all this summer. Try it, you won’t be disappointed.
- Need this vegan? Omit the meat and cheese. Swap with another fatty and salty ingredient like avocado and capers.
- Need this gluten free? Use gluten free pasta or quinoa.
- Need greens? Add fresh arugula or spinach just before serving.
- Need other add ins? Try sun dried tomatoes, marinated artichokes, capers, green onion, and chopped zucchini.
- Want this as a main course? Add more salami, chick peas or pepperoni.
- Quick pickle the red onion in the dressing to mellow its bite.
- Cut all the vegetables the same size. It makes it easier to eat, and it tastes better if you have more variety in each mouthful.
- Add 2 tablespoons of kosher salt when cooking.
- Cook al dente. Start testing it 4 to 5 minutes after adding it to the pot.
- Put the dressing on cold pasta. Warm noodles soaks up all the dressing and becomes dry and gummy.
- Toss, taste, and season before serving. Storing this salad in the fridge dulls our sense of taste. Plus, the pasta absorbs a lot of the dressing.
- Short on time? Use less add ins and your favorite store bought Italian dressing.
- Set of 6 Glass Prep Bowls: we love using these bowls for displaying prepped ingredients.
- Set of 3 Stainless Whisks: these are our favorite whisks for making salad dressings and baking.
- Emeril Lagasse Dutch Oven: this well-made pot is great for boiling pasta or making soups.
- Stainless Steel Colander: the handy base on the bottom of this colander makes it easy to use.
These other Mediterranean salads will be crowd favorites for sure.
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The ultimate Italian pasta salad recipe is an easy dinner idea to bring to summer picnics and potlucks. This classic salad is made with tricolor pasta and is loaded with veggies, salami, and cheese. The homemade Italian dressing takes this pasta salad to new levels of deliciousness.
For the Italian Dressing
- 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup red wine vinegar (236 ml)
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest, from 1 large lemon
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 6 basil leaves, chopped or 1/2 teaspoon dried
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon oregano
- 6 small fresh basil leaves
For the Salad
- 1/2 cup red onion, thinly sliced then chopped
- 7 ounces garden rotini
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 cup kalamata olives, sliced (140g)
- 3/4 cup yellow pepper, chopped (100g)
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved (300g)
- 1/2 cup English cucumber, sliced and quartered (225g)
- 4 ounces Provolone, cut in strips (113g)
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 6 ounces salami, cut in strips (170g)
- 1/2 cup baby carrots, coined (70g)
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated (20g)
- 1/4 cup pepperoncini
For the Garnish
- 6 basil leaves, cut into ribbons then cut into smaller pieces
- 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
Making the Italian Dressing
- Whisk the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl. The recipe makes 1 2/3 cups of Italian dressing.
- Soak the thinly sliced red onion in the dressing to take out the bite for at least 10 minutes.
Making the Salad
- Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Stir in 2 tablespoons of kosher salt until dissolved. Pour in the dried pasta and cook until al dente. Read the instructions on the box and start checking it after 5 minutes of cooking. Remember that pasta plumps up as it cooks.
- Making the ice bath. While it is cooking, get your ice bath ready. Find a large bowl and fill it 1/2 way with cold water and add 2 cups of ice. Once it is done cooking, drain in a colander. Rinse with cold water then shock it in an ice bath of 50% water and 50% ice cubes by submerging the colander. This will stop it from cooking and will cool it quicker. Let the pasta drain and cool for at least 5 minutes.
- Assembling the salad. Pour the cooled noodles into a large bowl and gently stir in the next 10 ingredients for the salad. Omit the tomatoes if making more than 2 hours in advance. Pour 3/4 to 1 cup of the dressing on and toss until well combined. If you would like, remove all the soaking onions from the dressing by using a strainer. Put all the onions in the salad. Pour the remaining Italian dressing into a mason jar, cover and refrigerate until needed.
- Chilling the salad. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes to 2 hours. It’s best at 2 hours.
- Adjusting the seasonings. Before serving, toss the salad. A lot of the dressing will have been absorbed by the noodles and some of it will have settled in the bottom of the bowl. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Shake the dressing, if in a mason jar or whisk it if it’s in a bowl. Pour 1/4 cup of Italian dressing on, sprinkle on salt, black pepper, sugar, basil and oregano. Toss. Taste. Any remaining dressing can be stored covered in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
- Adding the garnishes. Add any garnishes like basil leaves and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and enjoy!
- To mellow its bite, quick pickle the red onion in the dressing.
- To make it easier to eat, cut all the vegetables the same size.
- If you put the dressing on warm pasta, it will soak it all up all and it will become dry and gummy.
- When this is stored in the fridge, the cold dulls our sense of taste and the pasta absorbs a lot of the dressing, so that is why it’s important to toss, taste, and season before serving.
- Looking for short cuts? Use your favorite store bought Italian dressing and put in less add-ins.
- Category: Salad
- Method: Chopped
- Cuisine: Italian
Keywords: classic pasta salad, italian pasta salad