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person holding a bowl of Italian pasta salad

The Ultimate Italian Pasta Salad Recipe

  • Author: Brooke
  • Prep Time: 1 hour
  • Cook Time: 7 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 7 minutes
  • Yield: 10 cups 1x


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

  1. Whisk the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl.  The recipe makes 1 2/3 cups of Italian dressing.
  2. Soak the thinly sliced red onion in the dressing to take out the bite for at least 10 minutes.

Making the Salad

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Chilling the salad. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes to 2 hours.  It's best at 2 hours.
  5. 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.
  6. 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