Quick and Easy Pasta Salad
Fresh and easy pasta salad packed with crisp vegetables, fresh mozzarella, and tossed with a simple homemade dressing. This is the perfect side dish! Jump to the Easy Pasta Salad Recipe or read on to see our tips for making it.
Pasta salad is easy to make. The ingredients are simple and flexible, so you can make this when you are inundated by summer produce or you can adapt to what’s in season in the fall and winter. Plus, you are looking at under 20 minutes from start to finish. Not too bad, especially when you can keep it in the fridge for up to 5 days!
How to Make the Best Pasta Salad
We’ve shared a few variations for pasta salad over the years. Our orzo pasta salad combines orzo pasta, olives, cucumbers, and a simple lemony dressing. It has rave reviews! Our grilled veggie pasta salad is also popular. For a creamy pasta salad, try this creamy macaroni pasta salad!
This time, though, we wanted to share an extra easy and flexible pasta salad with you. It’ straight-forward and quick to make. So you can make the best pasta salad, we’ve shared lots of tips below.
What ingredients should I add to pasta salad?
This salad is a mashup between Greek and Italian pasta salad. Greek because we add both Kalamata and green olives and Italian because we throw both parmesan and fresh mozzarella cheese into the mix. If you love Greek inspired salads, take a look at our favorite Greek salad.
Now if you’re sitting there and thinking that you don’t want to add olives to your salad, no problem! Use our recipe as a guide then throw in the ingredients you love. We’ll share lots of suggestions below.
- Pasta: Pasta is essential, but the type of pasta you use does matter. I like the pasta to bite back a bit and hate it when it turns mushy. That’s why you should choose hearty pasta shapes like penne, fusilli, rotini, and farfalle (bow tie). They also have the advantage of lots of nooks and crannies, which trap the dressing and bits of cheese. Other shapes can work, too. Orzo pasta is an excellent option, just make sure you don’t overcook it.
- Vegetables: An assortment of veggies add color and crunch to the salad. We love adding bell pepper, cucumber or zucchini, halved cherry tomatoes, and thinly sliced green onion (or scallions). You can add other vegetables, too. Try sliced fennel, grated carrots, radish, and even cauliflower or broccoli. Roasted winter squash and beets are a nice alternative in fall and winter. Adding a handful of whatever fresh herbs you have on hand is an excellent idea, too. The more color and flavor, the better!
- Cheese: We love the saltiness of shredded parmesan in pasta salad. Since it’s shredded, it almost melts into the dressing. Mozzarella cheese is another favorite. We cut small balls of fresh mozzarella in half and toss them with the pasta. Other cheeses will work, too. Try feta cheese for more of a Greek pasta salad or swap the parmesan cheese for shredded sharp cheddar. For a vegan pasta salad, leave the cheese out.
- Flavorful Extras: My favorite part about pasta salad is adding extra secret ingredients that make it shine. Olives add tanginess and a lot of flavor. Pickled vegetables are fun (try pickled onions), and sliced pepperoncini peppers add a little extra kick. If you aren’t going for a vegetarian pasta salad, you can add a handful of chopped salami, pepperoni, turkey or ham. You could even shred a rotisserie or roasted chicken and toss it in. So many options!
Our Easy Dressing for Pasta Salad
Once you’ve decided on the ingredients you’re adding to the salad; you need to make the dressing. We make an easy five-ingredient pasta salad dressing. To make it, whisk red wine vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, dried oregano, and a pinch of salt and pepper. It’s simple, but when mixed with the pasta, veggies and other ingredients, it tastes amazing.
To upgrade the dressing, try champagne vinegar. It’s a bit more pricey, but it tastes incredible.
Making it in Advance
Here’s the great news. Pasta salad gets better over time. Letting the pasta and veggies sit in the dressing for a while makes a huge difference in flavor. We take the same approach when making potato salad.
You can make pasta salad and keep it in the fridge for up to five days, which makes this the perfect side dish to prepare in advance.
Let’s recap, for the best homemade pasta salad, keep the following in mind:
- A simple combination of red wine vinegar, oregano, olive oil, salt, and pepper makes the perfect tangy dressing.
- Pasta salad tastes better over time so making it ahead of time isn’t just possible, it’s recommended.
- Use a variety of colors and textures. Vegetables add crunch and color, olives add brininess, and fresh mozzarella makes the salad extra special.
- Add even more flavor with fresh herbs, pickled veggies or spicy peppers like sliced pepperoncini peppers.
Quick and Easy Pasta Salad
This easy pasta salad is flexible based on the ingredients you have in your kitchen or the season. Start with a hearty pasta shape that has nooks and crannies to hold onto the dressing like rotini or penne. Then toss with our simple dressing and lots of colorful vegetables. We also love adding parmesan cheese, which melts into the dressing as well as a handful of fresh mozzarella balls. For more suggestions for what to add, read through our recommendations in the article above.
You Will NeedPasta Salad
1 pound dried pasta like fusilli, penne, rotini or farfalle (bow tie)
1 cup sliced bell pepper (1 medium)
1 cup thinly sliced zucchini (1/2 medium)
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1/3 cup thinly sliced scallions (5 to 6)
1/4 cup sliced pepperoncini or banana peppers, optional
1 cup (4 ounces) halved mixed olives
1 cup (2 ounces) grated parmesan cheese
1 cup (6 ounces) fresh mozzarella balls, chopped
1/3 cup fresh parsley or basil, optionalHomemade Dressing
1/3 cup red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 to 3 tablespoons juice from pepperoncini jar, optional
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until tender, 6 to 10 minutes (check the package for recommended cook time). Drain and rinse well under cold water.
While the pasta cooks, in the bottom of a large bowl, make the dressing. Whisk the red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, oregano, pepperoncini juice (if using), and the olive oil until blended. Add the drained and rinsed pasta to the dressing and mix well.
Stir in the bell pepper, zucchini, tomatoes, scallions, pepperoncini (if using), olives, parmesan, mozzarella, and the herbs (if using). Taste for seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper as needed. Serve or for the best results, cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes and up to 5 days.
Adam and Joanne's Tips
- This gets better and better over time so making it a day in advance is a great idea!
- Nutrition facts: The nutrition facts provided below are estimates. We have used the USDA database to calculate approximate values.