Easy Pasta Salad

updated May 21, 2024
summer

This easy pasta salad is one we think you should know by heart.

Serves6 to 8

Prep15 minutes

Cook8 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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Is there a more quintessential warm-weather side dish than cold pasta salad? This cool salad keeps well, and it’s the perfect make-ahead lunch that you can pack throughout the week. Just about everyone in your family, from your kids to your mother-in-law, will eat it!

This recipe is truly as simple as boiling water and tossing in a few key pasta salad ingredients. Just stick to this simple formula, cool the pasta correctly, and lean on this flavorful dressing every time you need to whip one up.

There are a lot of cold pasta salads out there, but you should memorize this one. Here’s how to make this quick and easy pasta salad for your next summer potluck.

Quick Overview

Tips for Making the Best Pasta Salad

  • Steer clear of long noodles and go for shorter shapes.
  • Add texture and color to your pasta salad with vegetables. Make sure there’s a generous combination of pasta and vegetables in each bite.
  • Make sure the add-ins are chopped roughly the same size.
  • Dunk the strainer of pasta into an ice bath.
  • Mix up the dressing first then add the diced red onions to the dressing.
Credit: Joe Lingeman

Why You’ll Love It

  • The dressing is easily made from things already in your pantry, and it totally tastes like your favorite bottled Italian dressing.
  • From start to finish, this cold pasta salad recipe only takes 30 minutes to pull together.
  • It’s perfect for last-minute get-togethers or for a quick lunch to eat throughout the week.

Our Simple Pasta Salad Formula

Here’s an easy way to make sure your pasta salad feels robust rather than skimpy on the mix-ins. Pasta will plump as it cooks, and you want pasta salad to have a generous combination of pasta and vegetables in each bite.

  • For every 8 ounces of dried pasta, plan on 1 pound of mix-ins.
  • Make at least half of your pasta salad ingredients cheese, meat, or other savory mix-ins.
  • Dress your pasta salad with about 3/4 cup of dressing.
Credit: Joe Lingeman

Ingredients for Pasta Salad

This recipe is based on a formula that you can easily adapt to your favorite mix-ins. Don’t like olives? Add sun-dried tomatoes. Try using a different cheese, like feta, instead of fresh mozzarella.

Pasta salads are a great way to clean out both the pantry and the fridge. And while there are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to which pasta is best or which mix-ins to add, I do have some favorites and a few preferences.

  • Pasta: Steer clear of long noodles and go for shorter shapes like orecchiette, rotelle, fusilli, farfalle, rotini, or penne.
  • Vegetables: Here I used cherry tomatoes and and an English cucumber, but you could really add anything. Your goal is to add texture and color. Toss in some thinly sliced bell peppers, marinated artichoke hearts, arugula, or thinly sliced green onions.
  • Cheese: Fresh mozzarella is easy to find, but you could swap it for marinated mozzarella, feta, or cubed provolone. Even the salty bite of shaved Parmesan would work.
  • Protein: Crispy bacon sprinkled on top of the pasta salad is always a hit, but you could also add shredded chicken or cubed ham. If you’re looking for a vegetarian option, rinse and add a can of chickpeas.
  • Flavorful extras: Sun-dried tomatoes add both color and flavor. Mix up your olive options. Add in pickled garlic. Toss in a handful of fresh herbs, like torn basil, oregano, or dill. If you want to add a little heat, add tangy pepperoncini peppers.
Credit: Joe Lingeman

How to Make Pasta Salad

  1. Marinate red onions in the dressing. We’re going to avoid adding raw red onions straight in this salad, mainly because their bite can steal the show in a bad way. A simple way to combat this is to mix up the dressing first and add the diced red onions to the dressing before you do anything else. The red onions will add flavor to the dressing, but they will also mellow out and become sort of like a quick-pickle while soaking into the vinaigrette.
  2. Chop the ingredients roughly the same size. Cucumbers, tomatoes, and even mozzarella should be chopped in some way before making their way into the salad, because the goal is to make this salad as easy to eat as it is to make.
  3. Shock the pasta. Unlike potato salad, which loves to be dressed warm, pasta will soak up all the dressing and become dry and gummy if you toss it with the dressing while warm. On the other hand, you don’t want to wait around while the pasta cools and potentially sticks to itself. The simple solution? After draining, dunk the strainer of pasta into an ice bath (equal parts ice and water in a large bowl) and get it cold fast.
  4. Mix and chill before serving. Pasta salad get better as it rests, so for the best pasta salad, all you have to do is mix and chill the salad for at least 30 minutes. It’s why pasta salad is even better the next day.

What to Serve with Pasta Salad

Serving Cold Pasta Salad at a Safe Temperature

The maximum cold holding temperature for pasta salad is 40°F. Keep pasta salad cold by nesting it in bowls of ice and use an instant-read thermometer to check the cold holding temperature.

Storage Tips

This pasta salad keeps well in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. As pasta salad chills, it can taste a little less flavorful (cold dulls our sense of taste just a tad), so be sure to taste the salad and season again just before serving.

Easy Pasta Salad Recipe

This easy pasta salad is one we think you should know by heart.

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 8 minutes

Serves 6 to 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the dressing:

  • 1/2 cup

    olive oil

  • 1/4 cup

    red wine vinegar

  • 2 teaspoons

    dried Italian seasoning

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    granulated sugar

  • 1 clove

    garlic, minced

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

For the pasta salad:

  • 1/2

    medium red onion, finely chopped

  • 8 ounces

    dried short pasta, such as rotini

  • 8 ounces

    cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered

  • 1

    small English cucumber, quartered lengthwise, then thinly sliced crosswise

  • 4 ounces

    mini mozzarella balls, drained and halved

  • 4 ounces

    salami slices, cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips

  • 1/2 cup

    pitted kalamata olives, halved

  • 1/4 cup

    coarsely chopped fresh parsley leaves

Equipment

Instructions

  1. Place 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, 1 clove minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper in a small bowl and whisk to combine.

  2. Add 1/2 a finely chopped red onion and stir to combine. Set aside to soften while you prepare the rest of the salad.

  3. Bring 2 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add 8 ounces pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes or according to package directions. Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath in a large bowl.

  4. Drain the pasta in a colander and run under cold water. Dunk the colander in the ice bath and set aside to cool for 5 minutes.

  5. Drain the pasta well. Transfer to a large bowl. Add 8 ounces tomatoes, 1 English cucumber, quartered and thinnly sliced, 4 ounces of mini mozzarella balls, 4 ounces salami cut into 1/2-inch wide strips, 1/2 cup pitted and halved kalamata olives, and 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley. Add the dressing, including the onions, to the pasta and toss until evenly combined.

  6. Refrigerate the pasta salad for at least 30 minutes for the flavors to meld before serving.

Recipe Notes

Storage: This pasta salad keeps well in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Taste and season again before serving if needed.