Italian Pasta Salad

4.84 from 36 votes
↓ Jump to Recipe 12

This post may contain affiliate links | disclosure policy

This easy Italian pasta salad is loaded with fresh vegetables, mozzarella cheese, salami, and tossed in a tangy herb vinaigrette. Make a big batch that’s perfect for serving as a side dish at your next potluck or barbecue.

Bowl of Italian pasta salad.

Don’t settle for store-bought Italian pasta salads that are often mushy and drowning in overly tart dressing. Instead, making it from scratch yields gourmet results without skimping on the mix-ins, so you can wow your friends and family. The two main components that need a little extra finesse when preparing are the dried pasta and dressing. My easy recipe techniques will guide you through the process with ease.

Cooking the noodles on your own allows you to control the level of doneness for maximum flavor absorption. This is important because this starchy base ingredient affects the overall taste experience. Furthermore, you could buy bottled Italian dressing for convenience, however, it only takes a few minutes to whisk together a more flavorful and balanced tangy herb vinaigrette.

Salad ingredients pre-portioned into smaller bowls.

Pasta Selection

The type of pasta (link) used impacts how much salad dressing is delivered per bite. Use a short pasta with lots of twists and grooves like rotini, fusilli, or gemelli. This will grab and trap the vinaigrette more effectively. I like smaller-sized pieces of tender pasta in order to balance out the other vegetables and protein mix-ins. It’s also easy to serve and enjoy fork-sized noodles, instead of long strands for the salad.

Why you should cook pasta past al dente

Typically pasta is cooked al dente, or “to the tooth” with a little more chew in the center. For a cold pasta salad, it’s better to boil until the entire pasta is soft throughout, but not mushy. This adds just a few short minutes to the cooking time, but it allows for more of the starches to be released, creating a stickier surface for the dressing to cling to.

Right after draining the hot water, make sure to rinse the pasta with cold water to stop the cooking process and firm up the noodles before tossing.

Rinsing pasta in a colander.

Ingredients for the Italian dressing

The key to a delicious homemade Italian pasta salad recipe is nailing the dressing. I use high-quality extra-virgin olive oil, pungent red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, a touch of honey to balance the acidity, and dried Italian seasonings. This combination gives that characteristic bold, tangy, and herbaceous flavor.

Make a proper emulsion

Don’t be tempted to just dump the oil into the dressing all at one time. Instead, slowly drizzle in the oil and consistently whisk. This process helps to break the fat into small droplets that create a uniform oil in water emulsion.

Properly dispersing the oil creates a thicker dressing that will cling to the ingredients, evenly delivering the tangy vinegar and herbs. The worst thing is to have a greasy pasta salad and all of the flavorful vinegar pooling at the bottom of the bowl.

Unmixed pasta salad in a bowl with vegetables, cheese, and salami.

Add in colorful, crunchy, and salty mix-ins

To make each bite more interesting, toss in colorful, Italian-inspired ingredients. I like to use freshly chopped vegetables like red onion, green and red bell pepper for crunchiness. Cherry tomatoes add a nice juicy sweetness while sliced pepperoncini and black olives add pungent, briny flavors.

Just like a good antipasto appetizer, add-in some creamy mozzarella balls and slices of savory salami. I’m a big fan of sprinkling in fresh herbs like basil and parsley for garden aromas. You can also get creative and with marinated artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, and kalamata olive for bold flavors.

Making ahead and serving

The noodles, vegetables, cheese, and meat can be prepared and combined 1 day in advance. It’s best to make the dressing the same day to keep it uniform. I also toss the pasta and dressing together right before serving so it nicely coats the surface.

Letting the salad sit too long causes the starchy noodles to soak up too much liquid, and makes the pasta dry. If you do have leftovers, save some extra dressing so you can drizzle more on top later to enhance the taste.

What to serve with this

Close up of a spoon in a bowl of pasta salad.

Recipe Science

Keeping the salad dressing emulsified

The oil and vinegar emulsion is only temporary, lasting an hour at best before the layers separate. To prolong the uniform suspension, I add two emulsifying agents, mayonnaise and mustard. They prevent the oil and vinegar from separating when tossed with the pasta, but they should be mixed with the vinegar first to effectively coat the oil droplets when whisked.

Italian Pasta Salad

Easy Italian pasta salad loaded with fresh vegetables, mozzarella, salami, and tossed in a tangy herb vinaigrette, it's the perfect side dish for your next party.
4.84 from 36 votes
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time10 minutes
Total Time40 minutes
Servings 12 servings
Course Side
Cuisine Italian

Ingredients 
 

Italian Pasta Salad

  • 4 quarts water
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, for boiling the pasta
  • 1 pound rotini pasta
  • 6 ounces mozzarella cheese balls, cut in half
  • 4 ounces sliced salami, cut into ¼-inch thick pieces
  • 1 cup baby tomatoes, cut in half
  • ½ cup red bell pepper, ½-inch dice
  • ½ cup green bell pepper, ½-inch dice
  • ½ cup red onion, ¼-inch dice
  • ½ cup black olives, sliced
  • cup sliced pepperoncini
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon sliced basil leaves

Italian Dressing

  • cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons mayonnaise
  • 1 ½ teaspoon minced garlic
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons

Instructions 

Italian Pasta Salad

  • In a large pot bring water and 1 tablespoon of salt to a boil. Cook pasta until slightly softer than al dente, about 9 to 10 minutes.
  • Drain pasta, rinse with cold water until cool, about 1 minute. Thoroughly drain excess water and then add noodles to a large bowl.
  • Top pasta with mozzarella cheese, salami, tomatoes, red bell pepper, green bell pepper, red onion, black olives, pepperoncini, parsley, and basil. Stir to combine.

Italian Dressing

  • In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together red wine vinegar, honey, mustard, Italian seasoning, mayonnaise, garlic, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
  • Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, vigorously whisk until a thickened emulsified dressing forms. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as desired.

To Serve

  • Drizzle 1 cup of the Italian dressing over the pasta and gently toss until combined. Add more as desired or serve the extra dressing on the side.

Recipe Video

YouTube video

Notes

  • Recipe Yield: 12 cups
  • Serving Size: 1 cup
  • Dressing Makes: 1 ½ cups
  • White wine vinegar can be substituted for red wine vinegar.
  • Maple syrup can be substituted for honey.
  • Homemade Italian seasoning: ½ teaspoon dried basil, ½ teaspoon dried oregano, ½ teaspoon dried teaspoon parsley, ¼ teaspoon dried thyme, ¼ teaspoon dried rosemary.
  • The pasta can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Add more dressing to enhance the taste.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 12 servings
Calories 404kcal (20%)Carbohydrates 33g (11%)Protein 10g (20%)Fat 26g (40%)Saturated Fat 5g (25%)Cholesterol 13mg (4%)Sodium 493mg (21%)Potassium 195mg (6%)Fiber 2g (8%)Sugar 4g (4%)Vitamin A 325IU (7%)Vitamin C 19mg (23%)Calcium 82mg (8%)Iron 1mg (6%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

Tried this recipe?

Tag me on Instagram. I'd love to see how it turns out!

Tag @jessica_gavin

Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

Quick & Easy Meals in Under 30 Minutes!
Get 25 simple meals your whole family will love.
Jessica Gavin standing in the kitchen

You May Also Like

Reader Interactions

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating




12 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Lisa Arnold Harrington says

    Loved it!! Made the pasta salad added cucumbers but the rest was all yours! Thank you for sharing… my whole family loved it!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      So happy to hear that your family loves the pasta salad, Lisa! The addition of the cucumbers sounds great!

  2. Mary says

    Hi Jessica! I’m making this Italian Pasta Salad this weekend to take to a BBQ… it looks delicious! Like all your recipes I Can’t Wait to try it! I’ve never been disappointed by any of your recipes!!!! Thanks ? I’ll let you know how it turns out.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      I can’t wait to hear what you think about the pasta salad! I would wait to add the dressing until you’re ready to serve, and just whisk it again before adding.

  3. Anne Bennett says

    Made it over the weekend and took it to our socially distanced wine club. Everyone loved it! My husband who normally doesn’t like pasta salad said to make it again. Didn’t change a thing excerpt mad half the recipe and it was still a lot. We ate it up so no problem there.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Thank you for your feedback! I’m so thrilled to hear that your friends and family enjoyed the pasta salad, its great for sharing!

  4. Carol Espie says

    I made this, so so good. My daughter wants me to make it again. Thanks for sharing this. I think it will go in our family of favorites book.??

  5. kellie says

    I’ve been making similar pasta salad for years, but why the mayo in the dressing? I’ve never thought to add it in my dressing?

    • Jessica Gavin says

      The mayo has emulsifying agents, helping the dressing stay uniform longer and not separate when you’re trying to toss the pasta salad.

  6. Frank Jones says

    Made it yesterday and it was fabulous as are all your recipes. Also I was looking for a different stir-fry and you provided it with the bourbon chicken, another winner. Many ,many thanks.