Italian Pasta Salad

Updated: Jul 8th, 2023 · By Bethany Kramer
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This Italian pasta salad is the perfect side dish to compliment your favorite summer meal! Each bite is filled with juicy tomatoes, marinated artichokes, fresh herbs, salami, and parmesan-covered pasta noodles. It’s bright and fresh in flavor and so easy to prepare!

Pasta salad is the best of both worlds when it comes to salad! A little bit of pasta and a little bit of colorful vegetables and toppings.

This specific recipe has so many of my favorite antipasto ingredients involved such as salami, cheese, marinated artichokes, olives, and colorful vegetables to make it fresh and lighter.

The simple red wine vinegar dressing, fresh parmesan cheese, and fresh herbs are what coat this pasta salad with flavor in every bite! We love to serve this salad as an appetizer or as a side dish at our summer barbecues and parties. It’s always a hit!

Key ingredients

Like many Italian salads, this recipe is full of fresh ingredients and flavor! And best of all, you can easily customize the ingredients to your liking.

Ingredients for Italian pasta salad in small bowls arranged on a tan background.

See the recipe card below for the full list of ingredients and measurements.

Pasta: of course, this is essential for pasta salad! You can use any shape you like. I used fusilli because the twisty shape holds the dressing, cheese, and flavors really well.
Tomatoes: these are a must for some juiciness! I prefer cherry tomatoes because of how bite-sized and sweet they are in taste. But you can also use small diced tomatoes of any kind.
Red bell pepper: for some sweet crunch! You can also use any other bell pepper color or roasted red peppers.
Olives: I used black olives, but you could also add kalamata olives for some tang!
Artichokes: marinated artichokes add delicious flavor to this salad.
Red onion: is always a must for a good Italian salad. You can dice it or thinly slice it!
Selami: for a little meat I used sliced salami because that’s all I had available. But thicker slices cut into small pieces/chunks are my favorite way to serve this salad.
Mozzarella: I used small mini balls of fresh mozzarella!
Parmesan: fresh parmesan cheese is a must for this salad because it adds so much flavor and richness.
Fresh herbs: this is such an important ingredient for flavoring a pasta salad! I don’t recommend dried herbs, only fresh ones.
Dressing: I use a simple homemade Italian vinaigrette to dress this salad, which adds moisture and most of the flavor! For that, you’ll need quality olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic powder, and maple syrup or honey.

How to Make It

  1. 1

    Cook the pasta. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a bowl and cook the pasta as the package instructs for al dente. Strain and run some cold water over it to help it cool, then add the pasta to a large mixing bowl.

  2. 2

    Add the toppings. In the same bowl as the pasta, add the artichokes, peppers, olives, red onion, tomatoes, salami, mozzarella, herbs, and shredded parmesan cheese.

  3. 3

    Mix with the dressing. Then drizzle the dressing over top and mix all the pasta and salad ingredients together until completely incorporated.

A collage of three photos showing how to assemble a pasta salad. The first photo is a bowl with cooked pasta in it. The second photo is the bowl of pasta with Italian toppings. The third photo is the pasta mixed with the salad topping ingredients in the same bowl.

Recipe Variations

Make it gluten-free. If you’d like this pasta to be gluten-free friendly you can use your favorite gluten-free pasta. We like jovial noodles!

Add different vegetables. To mix up the flavors, you can also add additional ingredients such as chickpeas or white beans, avocado, roasted red peppers, fennel, cucumber, watermelon radish, arugula, or Mediterranean olives.

Use different cheeses. This pasta salad has two types of cheese – mozzarella and parmesan. The mozzarella isn’t necessary because it has a very subtle flavor, but fresh parmesan should always be in a pasta salad for its added flavor and richness. But instead of parmesan, you could also use asiago or pecorino romano!

Salad dressing variations. A lot of traditional pasta salads will use red wine vinegar, which I personally love to use. But you can also use white balsamic vinegar or regular balsamic too!

Tips for a Successful Pasta Salad

Choose the right pasta – the Best pasta shape for pasta salad. A mistake that’s often made for pasta salads is choosing the wrong-shaped pasta! You want a shape that will hold the dressing and cheese, and not have the ingredients slipping off the pasta. The perfect shapes to use are ones that have little crevices and pockets to trap flavor and ingredients, such as fusilli, rotini, medium-sized shells, and radiatore. Just to name a few!

Cook the pasta right. Since pasta is the star of the show, make sure it’s cooked perfectly. To avoid overcooked hard pasta or mushy undercooked pasta, use the directions on your package to cook the pasta as it directs until it’s “al dente” in texture. This will give it a small bite in texture and the pasta will hold its shape perfectly for the salad!

Don’t add the dressing until you’re ready to serve. I personally think the timing of the dressing on pasta salad is everything. I like my pasta salad to be freshly tossed and coated in the dressing when I eat it! If it sits too long before being served, the pasta can potentially absorb a lot of the dressing which results in dry pasta salad. So as a rule of thumb, dress the salad when you’re ready to serve it!

The key to a flavorful pasta salad. In my opinion, there are three things that make this pasta salad flavorful.
1) The fresh herbs – most pasta salad recipes have little to no herbs which is so essential for fresh, bright flavor.
2) Fresh parmesan, not pre-shredded parmesan (and lots of it!). This not only adds cheesiness to every bite but delicious salty, savory flavor!
3) Garlic powder, which is included in the salad dressing. I use a bit more because it adds a ton of flavor to this dish! Garlic powder will be a lot more subtle than fresh garlic too but it still packs a punch with flavor.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I rinse the pasta? Pasta salad is the only time I rinse pasta noodles. Rinsing them under cold water helps quickly cool the hot pasta noodles.

Can I make pasta salad in advance? You can! There are two ways to do this. 1) You can assemble the pasta with the vegetables and keep the dressing separate, then dress it when you’re ready to serve it (this is my personal preference). 2) Or you can make the salad 4 hours in advance and let 2/3 of the dressing and pasta salad marinate together, then top it off with the rest of the dressing when you’re ready to serve it. Keep it covered and chilled if you’re making it in advance.

Can I prep pasta salad the night before? Yes! I recommend keeping the cooked pasta, and all the prepped vegetables/meats/cheeses in chilled separate containers/bags. The dressing should be kept at room temperature in an airtight container or sealed jar. Then assemble the salad when ready to serve!

How long do leftovers last? This pasta salad is best kept refrigerated for up to 4-5 days. When reserving it, you can drizzle it with a little bit of olive oil to freshen up the dish.

A close up of Italian pasta salad in a wooden bowl with olives, artichokes, and vegetables on top.

What to Serve with Pasta Salad

This pasta salad is perfect for summer gatherings or barbecues! We love to serve it with…

Burgers & hot dogs: this pasta salad is made for summer barbecues that involve burgers and hot dogs. It’s the perfect side and adds the right touch of freshness!

Chicken: this pasta salad also goes great with chicken, whether that’s our grilled honey dijon chicken thighs, barbecue chicken, or our roasted lemon rosemary chicken!

Sides: some side dishes that go great alongside pasta salad are corn on the cob, potato salad, barbecue beans, and charcuterie meats & cheeses!

More Italian Salads to Try

If you love this pasta salad, you might also be a fan of our Bowtie Pasta Salad with Parmesan Herb dressing. For Italian salads without any pasta, try our favorite Tuscan Artichoke Salad or Cannellini Bean Salad!

Italian Pasta Salad

This Italian pasta salad is the perfect side dish to compliment your favorite summer meal! Each bite is filled with juicy tomatoes, marinated artichokes, fresh herbs, salami, and parmesan-covered pasta noodles. It's bright and fresh in flavor and so easy to prepare!
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 1 lb dry fusilli pasta noodles
  • 1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 cup marinated artichokes
  • 1/4 cup red onion, sliced or diced small
  • 1/4 cup black olive slices
  • 1/3 cup mini mozzerella balls or fresh mozzarella cut into pieces
  • 1/3 cup salami chunks (for thinly sliced salami about 8 slices cut into pieces)
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped

Dressing

Instructions

  • Make the dressing: In a small jar with a lid or liquid measure cup, add the olive oil, red wine vinegar, maple syrup, garlic powder, and salt & black pepper to taste until the flavor is just right. Whisk together if it's in a bowl, or seal the dressing tightly in a jar and shake it until completely combined.
  • Cook the pasta: Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. When the water is boiling, carefully add the pasta noodles and stir together. Let the pasta cook until al dente in texture (use your pasta packaging for instructions). When it's finished, drain it in a strainer and rinse under cold water.
  • Assemble the salad: In a large mixing bowl, add the cooked pasta, all the toppings, chopped herbs, and freshly grated parmesan cheese. Use two spoons to mix and toss the ingredients together, then drizzle the dressing over the salad when you're ready to serve it! Toss until everything is completely coated in dressing, herbs, and cheese. Taste it, add additional salt & black pepper if needed, then enjoy!
    If you're serving it later: If you're going to be serving this salad several hours later after you assemble it, I recommend drizzling only a little bit of the dressing in the salad and then letting it marinate. Then add the remaining salad dressing when it's ready to be served! This will ensure the salad is fresh and doesn't dry out while it sits.

Notes

Make it gluten-free. If you’d like this pasta to be gluten-free friendly you can use your favorite gluten-free pasta. We like jovial noodles!
Add different vegetables. To mix up the flavors, you can also add additional ingredients such as chickpeas or white beans, avocado, roasted red peppers, cucumber, fennel, watermelon radish, arugula, or Mediterranean olives.
Course Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine American, Italian
Keyword bowtie pasta salad, Italian pasta salad
Freezer Friendly No

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