Italian Pasta Salad

June 5, 2021

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Loaded and refreshing Italian Pasta Salad! Made with tender pasta, smoked salami, fresh veggies and herbs, two types of cheese, and a tangy homemade Italian dressing.

Photo: Italian Pasta Salad shown in a large wooden bowl from above. Bowl is resting on a marble surface with a striped cloth and jar of olive oil to the side.

The Perfect Summer Pasta Salad

What would summer be without at least one cookout or picnic that includes a vibrant and perfectly enjoyable, cold pasta salad?

This will quickly become a new favorite because there is so much goodness and an abundance of fresh flavor. Each of the ingredients blend exceptionally well together, each one complimenting the other.

It has a harmonious blend of textures as well. There’s a nice trio of crisp, soft, and chewy.

This makes a very hearty and satisfying side dish that pairs well with grilled chicken, beef or fish.

Just one thing to note – it does make a very large salad, or enough for a small crowd. The recipe will halve nicely for a family dinner.

Or just make the full recipe anyway and serve the leftovers the following day for lunch.

Photo: Ingredients displayed that are used to make Italian pasta salad. Includes rotini pasta, bell peppers, onion, lemon, parmesan, mozzarella, tomatoes, olives, herbs, garlic, salami, honey and dijon.

Italian Pasta Salad Recipe Ingredients

  • Rotini pasta
  • Salami
  • Grape tomatoes
  • Black olives
  • Bell peppers
  • Red onion
  • Fresh mozzarella pearls
  • Parmesan
  • Fresh parsley and basil
  • Dried oregano
  • Olive oil
  • Lemons
  • Dijon mustard
  • Honey
  • Red pepper flakes

See below for full recipe.

Photo: Collage of six images showing steps of making Italian pasta salad. Includes boiling pasta then cooling. Making dressing, slicing ingredients and tossing everything together in a very large bowl.

How to Make Italian Pasta Salad

  1. Boil pasta: Cook pasta according to directions on package (I boil in 5 quarts water with 1 Tbsp salt) just barely to al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water then drain pasta.
  2. Cool pasta: Immediately transfer pasta to a rimmed 18 by 13-inch baking sheet and spread out to cool for 15 minutes.
  3. Prepare pasta salad ingredients: While pasta is cooking and cooling chop ingredients.
  4. Make Italian dressing: For the dressing whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, mustard, honey, garlic, red pepper flakes and season lightly with salt and then pepper to taste.
  5. Add pasta, veggies, and cheeses to bowl: Add cooled pasta to an extra large bowl along with salami, tomatoes, olives, bell peppers, red onion, mozzarella pearls, parmesan, parsley and basil.
  6. Toss with dressing and pasta water: Whisk dressing once more then pour over ingredients in bowl along with 1/4 cup pasta water. Toss well to evenly coat.
  7. Add more if needed: Thin with more pasta water as desired and season with more salt as needed.
  8. Chill: It can be served right away or for a colder, more refreshing pasta salad, chill for 1 – 2 hours.

Italian pasta salad shown from a side angle on a large wooden bowl.

Possible Variations

Here are a some great ideas for substitutions to use what you have on hand:

  • Pasta: You can use another medium size pasta such as fusilli, gemelli, penne, cavatappi or bow tie pasta.
  • Cheeses: Romano cheese works well for parmesan cheese here.
  • Processed block mozzarella can be substituted for fresh, just cut into small cubes.
  • Meat: Pepperoni could be used for salami (you don’t need to use quite as much).
  • Veggies: Try cucumber in place of half of the bell pepper.
  • Kalamata olives for black olives (use half the amount they are quite pungent).
  • Use 1 1/2 tsp dried basil if you don’t have fresh. It’s much less because it’s stronger and has a different taste.
  • Dressing: Extra virgin olive oil or refined standard olive oil may be used here depending on how much of that flavor you want to shine through (extra virgin olive oil is stronger in flavor).
  • 3 Tbsp red wine vinegar can be used in place of the lemon juice. I just prefer the freshness of the lemon.
  • If in a rush you can use 1 cup of your favorite store-bought Italian dressing. Just cut back a little on the herbs added if it has a strong herby taste.

Helpful Tips

  • Don’t cook pasta past al dente or the pasta will become super soggy once it absorbs some dressing. Just right to al dente or even 30 seconds shy.
  • Cut ingredients small for uniformity and so you can get some of each flavor in every bite.
  • Allow pasta salad some time to marinade so the veggies and pasta absorb more flavor.
  • Also for a cold and refreshing salad during hot summer months, allow 1 – 2 hours for refrigerating before serving.
  • Store in fridge up to 3 days in an airtight container.

Close up photo of Italian pasta salad showing all the textures and fresh ingredients of the pasta salad.

More Delicious Pasta Salad Recipes to Try

Italian pasta salad shown from a side angle on a large wooden bowl.
5 from 4 votes

Italian Pasta Salad

Loaded and refreshing! Made with tender pasta, smoked salami, fresh veggies and herbs, two types of cheese, and a tangy homemade Italian dressing. Perfect for a picnic or summer dinner.
Servings: 12
Prep30 minutes
Cook6 minutes
Ready in: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 16 oz. dry rotini
  • 10 oz. hard salami, sliced 1/4-inch thick then chopped
  • 3 cups (16 oz.) grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 (6 oz.) can black olives, sliced
  • 2 cups chopped bell peppers (I like to use yellow and green)
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella pearls*
  • 3 oz. freshly grated parmesan,** (3/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil***

Dressing

  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  • Cook pasta according to directions on package (I boil in 5 quarts water with 1 Tbsp salt) just barely to al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water then drain pasta.
  • Immediately transfer pasta to a rimmed 18 by 13-inch baking sheet and spread out to cool for 15 minutes.
  • While pasta is cooking and cooling chop ingredients and prepare dressing.
  • For the dressing whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, mustard, honey, garlic, red pepper flakes and season lightly with salt and then pepper to taste.
  • Add cooled pasta to an extra large bowl along with salami, tomatoes, olives, bell peppers, red onion, mozzarella pearls, parmesan, parsley and basil.
  • Whisk dressing once more then pour over ingredients in bowl along with 1/4 cup pasta water. Toss well to evenly coat. Thin with more pasta water as desired and season with more salt as needed.
  • It can be served right away or for a colder, more refreshing pasta salad, chill for 1 - 2 hours (or up to 3 days).

Notes

  • *Chopped fresh mozzarella (log or ball shape) can be substituted in place of pearls if you can't find that size. Just cut into small cubes.
  • **To grate parmesan cut into chunks about 1-inch then add to food processor. Process for a minute or so until finely ground.
  • ***1 1/2 tsp dried basil can be used in place of fresh, but if using dried, mix it into the dressing.
  • Recipe makes about 18 cups.
Nutrition Facts
Italian Pasta Salad
Amount Per Serving
Calories 529 Calories from Fat 315
% Daily Value*
Fat 35g54%
Saturated Fat 9g56%
Polyunsaturated Fat 3g
Monounsaturated Fat 20g
Cholesterol 38mg13%
Sodium 1005mg44%
Potassium 413mg12%
Carbohydrates 36g12%
Fiber 3g13%
Sugar 5g6%
Protein 18g36%
Vitamin A 2063IU41%
Vitamin C 62mg75%
Calcium 216mg22%
Iron 2mg11%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Nutrition values are estimates only. See full disclaimer here.