Recipe: Light & Fresh Italian Pasta Salad

updated Feb 3, 2020
Light & Fresh Italian Pasta Salad

A potluck-friendly recipe for Italian pasta salad filled with sun-dried and fresh tomatoes, olives, fresh mozzarella, and arugula.

Serves8 to 10

Prep10 minutes

Cook11 minutes

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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

This Tuscan-inspired pasta salad is light and bright. It’s filled with a mix of both juicy fresh tomatoes and chewy sun-dried tomatoes, mild black olives, creamy fresh mozzarella, and peppery arugula and tossed in a simple garlicky red wine vinaigrette. It can work alongside whatever you happen to be serving this summer, and is as fresh as the season itself.

A Simple Vinaigrette Is the Secret to a Lighter Pasta Salad

For years I turned my nose up at pasta salad because all I knew was the kind sold in tubs at the grocery store coated in a goopy dressing. Only when my dad started making his own pasta salad using packets of Good Seasons Italian dressing did I realize the possibilities. This take on my dad’s recipe opts for a quick homemade red wine vinaigrette that’s simply enhanced with garlic.

The light vinaigrette means the salad can handle a whole slew of flavorful ingredients. The concentrated sweetness of sun-dried tomatoes contrasts fresh tomatoes’ juicy bite. Bite-sized balls of creamy mozzarella add substance, while a few big handfuls of arugula bring the freshness up one more level and lend a peppery kick. I love how twirly cavatappi pasta catches these things, but other short shapes like fusilli or gemelli also work well.

This is the kind of pasta salad that’s lovely as a side dish but also wonderful as a light lunch, so go ahead and enjoy it either way.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Light & Fresh Italian Pasta Salad

A potluck-friendly recipe for Italian pasta salad filled with sun-dried and fresh tomatoes, olives, fresh mozzarella, and arugula.

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 11 minutes

Serves 8 to 10

Nutritional Info


  • 3 tablespoons

    olive oil

  • 3 tablespoons

    red wine vinegar, plus more as needed

  • 1

    small clove garlic, minced

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 pound

    dry cavatappi or other short pasta, such as fusilli or gemelli

  • 1 pound

    fresh bocconcini or ciliegine mozzarella cheese (bite-size mozzarella balls), halved or quartered if large

  • 1 (8.5-ounce) jar

    oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and thinly sliced

  • 2

    medium tomatoes, cored, seeded, and chopped (about 1 cup)

  • 1 (2.5-ounce) can

    sliced black olives, drained

  • 2 cups

    lightly packed baby arugula


  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, place the oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, and a few grinds of black pepper in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

  2. Add the pasta to the water and cook until al dente, according to package directions. Drain and run briefly under cool water to cool the pasta down. Drain well again.

  3. Add the pasta, mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, chopped tomatoes, and olives to the bowl of dressing. Toss thoroughly to combine. Let sit 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, to allow the flavors to meld. Fold in the arugula. Taste and season with more salt, pepper, or vinegar as needed.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The pasta salad can be made a day ahead without the arugula and refrigerated overnight. Stir in the arugula and let the salad sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.