Summer starts for me when the summer pasta salad cravings hit and this Italian Pasta Salad is a great way to kick off the start of the season. It has a tangy homemade dressing and all the Italian-inspired ingredients like pepperoni, olives, mozzarella cheese and rotini pasta.
Table of contents
Because it’s almost summer, here is a go-to, must-make Italian pasta salad that shall carry us from right now all the way through Labor Day. Every season needs a quintessential dish, and I’m pretty sure this cold pasta salad is it for me. And maybe you?
Let’s review the details:
- For me, the make-it-or-break-it factor in pasta salad is the dressing. It has to be just right, and the homemade Italian dressing in this recipe nails it. It’s full of zesty flavor that doesn’t get lost with all the other ingredients.
- Lots of add-ins! Little mini pepperoni, tangy pepperoncini, creamy fresh mozzarella, as well as diced ham, tomatoes, and sliced olives. It’s almost a meal in itself, and I would not judge if you decided to make it so,
- This recipe makes a big batch for a great side dish for all the summer things – BBQs, potlucks, block parties… you get the idea.
- It’s the best make-ahead pasta salad because the flavors just get better the longer it sits. So, make it, refrigerate it, and it’s ready to go when you need it.
This Italian pasta salad recipe is guaranteed to get you in the summer mood.
How to Make It
First, boil the pasta following the package directions until it’s al dente. I use rotini for this salad because I love how it looks (vain, I know) but it’s also the perfect shape for holding the dressing. Once it’s cooked, drain it and then spread it out on baking sheet to cool.
In a large bowl, whisk:
- Olive oil
- Red wine vinegar
- Finely chopped red onion
- Minced garlic
- Salt and pepper
- Italian seasoning (or dried oregano if that’s what you have on hand)
Now for the fun part. Add all the other ingredients and toss it all together.
- Cooked and cooled rotini
- Fresh mozzarella
- Finely chopped parsley
- Sliced black olives
- Diced ham
- Sliced pepperoncini
- Mini pepperoni
- Grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes
- Chopped fresh parsley
You can serve this Italian pasta salad at room temperature, but it tastes even better after it’s been refrigerated. All of the flavors mix and marry together. I usually let it sit out at room temperature for a bit so it’s not ice-cold when I serve it.
Here are some ideas if you want to swap or add some ingredients to switch things up:
- Some diced bell peppers would not be a bad idea to add a crunchy texture – I would go with a sweet red, yellow, or orange bell pepper.
- Swap the pepperoni for salami.
- Add some grated Parmesan cheese, Asiago, or Romano cheese just before serving.
- Swap the fresh mozzarella for crumbled feta cheese for a Greek/Mediterranean twist.
- Chop up some jarred artichoke hearts and toss them in.
- Some grilled or roasted zucchini would not be a bad idea either.
- For a touch of heat, feel free to add a pinch or two of red pepper flakes.
- Swap the pasta for fusilli, penne, or another short pasta shape that you like.
A Few More Tips
- I like to add salt to the pasta water so the rotini soaks some of it up while it boils. It just adds a bit more flavor, but it’s optional.
- Mixing the onions with the dressing mellows them out a bit so they aren’t as sharp and, well, too onion-y in the salad.
- Speaking of the dressing – it’s not just for pasta, I imagine it would be a great Italian salad dressing all on its own.
- For the mozzarella, you can buy a ball and cut it into bite-sized pieces or, if you can find them, use perline which are mini mozzarella balls.
- I adapted this recipe from one I found on Pinch of Yum and it’s very customizable! Feel free to play around with the amount of the add-ins to suit your own tastes.
- For tomatoes, you can use fresh grape tomatoes or jarred sun-dried tomatoes. If you’re feeling industrious roasted grape tomatoes are amazingly yummy in this salad and my personal favorite.
- You can make it a day in advance, store it in an airtight container, and serve it the next day. The leftovers keep well in the refrigerator for several days.
This is the best pasta salad to kick off the season – it’s the perfect side dish for our summertime souls. I hope you love it!
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This easy Italian Pasta Salad has a tangy homemade dressing and all the Italian-style ingredients like pepperoni, ham, olives, mozzarella cheese and rotini pasta. Make it ahead and the leftovers keep well, too!
- 8 ounces rotini (see note)
For the Dressing
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/4 finely diced red onion
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
For the Salad
- 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved (see note)
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into bite-sized pieces (or use the mini balls)
- 5 ounces pepperoni (see note)
- 1 cup diced ham
- 1 (2.25-oz) canned sliced black olives, drained
- 1/2 cup sliced pepperoncini
- 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley, plus extra for garnish
- Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the salt and pasta. Boil the pasta according to package instructions (should be about 10ish minutes). When it’s done, drain it and then spread it in an even layer on a sheet pan to cool while you prep the rest of the salad.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk all of the ingredients for the dressing until well combined. Add the cooked pasta and all of the other ingredients and toss it all together until everything is evenly coated in the dressing and well mixed. Garnish with extra parsley.
I usually add one tablespoon of kosher salt to the boiling water for this recipe. It gives the pasta more flavor and most of the salt drains off. It’s optional but highly recommended. Just keep in the mind the nutritional estimate does not include this extra salt as it’s difficult to determine how much is absorbed by the pasta.
For the tomatoes, you can use fresh (as listed in the ingredients) or you can also substitute 2 cups roasted grape tomatoes or 1 cup jarred sun-dried tomatoes.
For the pepperoni, I used mini ones but if you can’t find them use the same amount of regular sliced ones but cut them into quarters.
- Category: Salads
- Method: Assemble
- Cuisine: Italian-American
- Serving Size: 1/8 of recipe
- Calories: 527
- Sugar: 4.2g
- Sodium: 1115.6mg
- Fat: 0.3g
- Saturated Fat: 10.6g
- Unsaturated Fat: 25.7g
- Trans Fat: 0.3g
- Carbohydrates: 27.3g
- Fiber: 2.2g
- Protein: 19.2g
- Cholesterol: 55.4mg
Keywords: Italian-style pasta salad, easy pasta salad recipe, Italian pasta salad
The nutrition information in this recipe is an estimate only and was calculated using Nutrifox, an online nutrition calculator.
Post updated from the archives. First published in May 2020.