This zesty Italian pasta salad recipe is perfect for picnics, backyard barbecues, lunches, potlucks, a summer dinner, and so much more! Made with cooked pasta, salami, and veggies, the cold pasta salad (with homemade Italian Dressing) is flavorful, healthy, and an easy recipe to customize.

Holding a large glass bowl of pasta salad.
A delicious combination of fresh flavors!

What Makes This Cold Pasta Salad So Good

This is one of my favorite cold salad recipes to make during the hot summer months. (Other favorite recipes: with fruit and Greek yogurt dip, Simple Cucumber Salad, Easy Marinated Chickpea Salad, Greek Yogurt Coleslaw, Kale and Romaine Caesar Salad). It’s the perfect summer pasta salad to serve as a side dish or main dish.

  • Minimal Cooking: The best part is this recipe requires very little cooking; just cooking the pasta. The no-cook fresh ingredients and pasta are mixed with a flavorful, homemade zesty Italian dressing made with simple ingredients.
  • Quick and Easy to Make: The entire salad comes together in about 30 minutes, from cooking the pasta to chopping the fresh ingredients and making the salad dressing.
  • A Tasty Side Dish or Main Dish: When I think of summer food, pasta salad comes to mind! The perfect pasta salad is one that works for a weeknight dinner alongside grilled chicken or steak or a great side dish for a summer bbq cookout. This flavorful pasta salad is exactly that.
  • Make-Ahead Lunch: The salad may be prepped and stored up to 3 days in advance, making it the perfect dish for a meal prep lunch. This salad doesn’t call for any ingredients that easily get mushy or soft (like feta cheese or greens). Add the prepared salad to meal prep containers or mason jars for an easy grab-and-eat lunch.
  • Flavorful: The homemade Italian dressing makes everything pop. Sure, you could use a store-bought bottle of Italian dressing instead. But most store-bought dressings contain inflammatory oils (like sunflower, canola, and soybean oil) and lack the incredible flavor of this homemade version.

What Readers Say:

“Made this for dinner on a hot night last week and it was fantastic! Also loved that it made enough for a couple of lunches too!”

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Cold pasta salad ingredients: cooked pasta, tomatoes, peppers, olives, olive oil, vinegar, cheese, spices, and salami.
Simple ingredients with delicious, fresh flavor.

Ingredients Needed

Italian Pasta Salad Ingredients:

  • 12-16 ounces pasta (such as: rotini, penne, or fusilli shaped pasta)
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half (or grape tomatoes)
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese (cut into small, bite-sized pieces)
  • 4 ounces sliced salami, cut into quarter pieces
  • 3/4 cup sliced pitted black olives (or your favorite pitted olives)
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 1/2 cup sliced pepperoncini peppers
  • 1/2 cup chopped artichoke hearts
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (flat leaf parsley)

Zesty Italian Dressing Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (flat leaf parsley)
  • 2 teaspoons Italian Seasoning (or 1 teaspoon dried oregano and 1 teaspoon dried basil)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • black pepper, to taste

Gluten-Free Pasta Salad

The best way to make this recipe gluten-free is to use gluten-free pasta. Bean pastas easily fall apart in a pasta salad, so I recommend using a brown rice pasta. Jovial Foods Fusilli or Penne Pasta are my favorite: incredible flavor and holds up great with the veggies and zesty dressing.

How to Make, Step By Step

Step 1: Boil the Pasta

Add water to a large pot. Add salt to the water. And bring the water to a boil. Once boiling, add the pasta and cook according to the package directions.

Step 2: Chop the Salad Ingredients

While the pasta cooks, chop the delicious salad ingredients: halve the cherry tomatoes, cut the mozzarella into smaller pieces, quarter the salami slices, slice the olives, chop the parsley, and cut the artichoke hearts into smaller pieces. Everything should be bite-sized!

Adding vinegar to olive oil to make an Italian salad dressing.
Making your own Italian dressing for the pasta salad is quick and easy!

Step 3: Make Your Own Dressing

In a mason jar or small bowl, whisk the zesty Italian salad dressing ingredients: olive oil, red wine vinegar, Italian seasoning, salt, minced garlic, a few turns of the black pepper grinder.

Step 4: Drain the Pasta

Once the pasta is cooked (al dente), drain the pasta into a colander. Then run fresh cold water over the pasta. Pour the drained pasta into a large mixing bowl.

Pouring homemade salad dressing over the cooked pasta.
Adding half the dressing to the freshly cooked pasta allows the pasta to soak up the amazing flavor.

Step 5: Combine the Pasta with Half the Dressing

While the pasta is still warm, whisk the dressing again and pour half the dressing over the pasta. Toss to combine and evenly coat the pasta noodles with the dressing. This allows the pasta to soak up the amazing flavors of the dressing.

Step 6: Combine the Pasta Salad Ingredients

Add all the remaining pasta salad ingredients to the pasta: cherry tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, salami, black olives, red onion, pepperoncini peppers, artichoke hearts, and parsley. Use your (clean) hands or large spoons to combine the ingredients.

Step 7: Add Remaining Dressing

Just before serving the pasta salad, add the remaining salad dressing and toss the salad to evenly coat all the ingredients.

If you plan to make this salad for a meal prep lunch and eat it over the next few days, add a little dressing before enjoying for lunch each day. This way the salad tastes super fresh!

Serve this Zesty Italian Pasta Salad immediately, at room temperature, or cover with a lid and place in the fridge for a cold salad to serve later.

Tossing pasta salad ingredients in a large bowl.
There are many ways to customize this recipe to your dietary or taste preferences.

Variations

Gluten-Free Pasta Salad: Use gluten-free pasta. Jovial Foods Brown Rice Pasta is my favorite. Also, check the salami to make sure it is gluten-free. I like Applegate brand as it doesn’t contain any gluten.

Dairy-Free Pasta Salad: Skip the cheese in this recipe for a dairy-free pasta salad.

Use Different Cheese: I love mozzarella cheese as it holds up well with the dressing without turning mushy. If you want to use a different cheese, try shredded or shaved Parmigiano-reggiano (parmesan cheese), crumbled feta cheese, cheddar cheese cubes. Feta cheese will turn mushy in the salad, so don’t add the feta until the salad is served and lightly toss to mix the cheese with the other ingredients. Shredded parmesan and cheddar cubes will both hold up well when tossed with the other ingredients and stored in the fridge.

Use Different Veggies: Don’t want to use artichoke hearts? Skip this canned ingredient and try something else instead: sliced fresh cucumber, more olives, more peppers, chopped fresh red or green bell pepper. This salad is very easy to customize by adding more of an ingredient, skipping the ingredient, or subbing it with a different ingredient.

Add Fresh Herbs: I love to add a handful of chopped fresh basil, oregano, or even mint to the salad, along with the parsley! Fresh herbs add incredible flavor, so if you have these herbs growing in your garden or have some extra in the fridge (because you’ve been storing herbs properly), add them!

Chicken or Shrimp Pasta Salad: Instead of salami, add 2 cups of cooked (peeled) shrimp to the salad. You could also add chopped grilled chicken or shredded rotisserie-style chicken. A delicious variety that turns the salad into more of a main meal.

Holding a bowl of mixed together pasta salad in the kitchen.
Serve the pasta salad cold or at room temperature.

How to Store

Store the pasta salad in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Even after combining the salad with all the dressing, the salad will store well without turning mushy for a couple of days. Serve the salad cold or at room temperature.

If you plan to make this salad for a meal prep lunch and eat it over the next few days, add a little of the remaining dressing before enjoying for lunch each day. This way the salad tastes super fresh!

Tossing pasta salad ingredients in a large bowl.
Serve the cold salad with a protein as a side dish, or make it a main dish!

Serving Suggestions

This recipe is the perfect side dish for a summer bbq, picnic, or dinner at home. Make this salad a main meal by adding more salami, or subbing out the salami for cooked shrimp or chopped chicken. As a side dish, here are a few of my favorite proteins to serve with this cold pasta salad:

Of course, for dessert, don’t forget to make homemade popsicles for the ultimate summer meal! Or serve a tray of fresh berries and fruit with Greek Yogurt Fruit Dip.

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Tossing pasta salad ingredients in a large bowl.
5 from 2 votes

Zesty Italian Pasta Salad (With Gluten-Free Variation)

This zesty Italian pasta salad recipe is perfect for picnics, backyard barbecues, lunches, potlucks, a summer dinner, and so much more! Made with cooked pasta, salami, and veggies, the cold pasta salad (with homemade Italian Dressing) is flavorful, healthy, and an easy recipe to customize.
Kristin Marr
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Total Time40 mins
Course Appetizer, dinner, Salad
Cuisine American, Italian
Servings 8 -10 servings (as a side dish)
Calories 421 kcal
Cost: $18

Equipment

  • 1 large soup pot or dutch oven, for cooking the pasta
  • 1 large mixing bowl , for making the pasta salad
  • 1 small mixing bowl or mason jar, for mixing the dressing

Ingredients

Pasta Salad:

Zesty Italian Dressing:

  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley flat leaf parsley
  • 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning (or 1 teaspoon dried oregano and 1 teaspoon dried basil)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 garlic cloves minced
  • black pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Add water to a large pot. Add salt to the water. Salting pasta water is so important for flavor! I use about 1 tablespoon salt per 1 pound of pasta. Bring the water to a boil. Once boiling, add the pasta to the salted water and cook according to the package directions.
  • While the pasta cooks, chop the salad ingredients: halve the cherry tomatoes, cut the mozzarella into smaller pieces, quarter the salami slices, slice the olives, chop the parsley, and cut the artichoke hearts into smaller pieces. The key is to cut everything into bite-sized pieces.
    Cold pasta salad ingredients: cooked pasta, tomatoes, peppers, olives, olive oil, vinegar, cheese, spices, and salami.
  • In a mason jar or small bowl, whisk the zesty Italian salad dressing ingredients: olive oil, red wine vinegar, Italian seasoning, salt, minced garlic, a few turns of the pepper grinder.
  • Once the pasta is cooked (al dente), drain the pasta into a colander. Run fresh cold water over the pasta. Pour the drained pasta into a large mixing bowl.
  • While the pasta is still warm, whisk the dressing again and pour half the dressing over the pasta. Toss to combine and evenly coat the pasta with the dressing.
    Pouring homemade salad dressing over the cooked pasta.
  • Add all the remaining pasta salad ingredients to the pasta: cherry tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, salami, black olives, red onion, pepperoncini peppers, artichoke hearts, and parsley. Use your (clean) hands or large spoons to combine the ingredients.
    All pasta salad ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
  • Serve the salad immediately, at room temperature, or cover with a lid and place in the fridge for a cold salad to serve later. I think the salad tastes best after sitting in the fridge for 2-6 hours, as the flavors can marry together.
  • Just before serving the pasta salad, add the remaining salad dressing and toss the salad to evenly coat all the ingredients.

Notes

Salad Dressing Storage: Store the remaining salad dressing at room temperature for up to 1 day, or in the fridge until ready to use.
Ingredient Substitutions: Canned or glass jar artichoke hearts can be expensive and hard to find at times. You’re welcome to skip this ingredient and add more tomatoes, olives, or peppers. Or add fresh cucumber slices instead. This salad is very easy to customize based on your preferences. The same goes for the peppers, instead use chopped fresh bell peppers or skip the pepperoncini. See variations in the article above.
Shrimp or Chicken Salad: If you want a meatier main dish salad, add more salami (8 ounces) or 2 cups of grilled chicken or cooked (peeled) shrimp.

Nutrition

Calories: 421kcalCarbohydrates: 40gProtein: 14gFat: 23gSaturated Fat: 7gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 12gCholesterol: 34mgSodium: 1126mgPotassium: 268mgFiber: 5gSugar: 3gVitamin A: 766IUVitamin C: 24mgCalcium: 175mgIron: 1mg
Tried this recipe?Let me know how it was!
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One Comment

  1. 5 stars
    Love this pasta salad! For a main meal, we add grilled chicken to bulk it up. So good during the summer when I don’t want to cook a full meal. I can make this and place it in the fridge for an easy summer dinner. Let me know what you think!

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