This delicious and colorful California Pasta Salad is always a hit at parties! Make it a day ahead if you want; the flavors only get better as it sits!

Ironically, I discovered California Pasta Salad during my recent trip home to Wisconsin (if you’re new here, it’s ironic because I actually live in California).

Among the non-stop backyard bonfires, lake-front picnics, and general summer merriment, one of my friends brought the most amazing Pasta Salad in recent memory.

It’s a giant bowl of chewy noodles, colorful veggies, and the best Italian salad dressing I’ve ever had. And unlike every other version of California Pasta Salad you’ll find on the Internet, my dressing is made from scratch!

California pasta salad in a clear bowl.

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I envision you all making this pasta salad in late summer when your gardens are overflowing with zucchini (some too big for their own good; you just can’t pick them fast enough!), cucumbers, tomatoes, and bell peppers. I hope you do! It’s so good!

While this recipe originated with Taste of Home in 1992, bloggers have been reposting the recipe over the last few years. However, every single version I find still uses store-bought Italian salad dressing.

We can do better!

Red Wine Vinaigrette takes 2 minutes to make, tastes way better, and is the perfect canvas on which to paint the extra flavors that go in to this dressing (sesame seeds, poppy seeds, celery seeds, paprika, and parmesan cheese).

If you’re reading this, Mom, you may substitute a bottle of store-bought Italian (just add those 5 ingredients I listed in the previous sentence).

The flavors just get better as the salad sits! You’ll want to give it at least 2 hours, but feel free to leave it in the fridge overnight.

Dressing being poured onto California pasta salad before ingredients have been mixed together in a clear bowl.

California pasta salad in a clear bowl.

California Pasta Salad

This delicious and colorful California Pasta Salad is always a hit at parties! Make it a day ahead if you want; the flavors only get better as it sits!
5 from 8 votes
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 2 hrs 25 mins
Total Time 2 hrs 40 mins
Servings 16 (1-cup) servings
Course Salad
Cuisine American
Calories 257


For the Salad Dressing:

  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons poppy seeds
  • 2 cloves garlic finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon Salt or more to taste

For the Pasta Salad:

  • 1 pound thin spaghetti broken into thirds
  • 2 medium zucchini diced
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes halved
  • 1 large hot house cucumber diced
  • 1 medium green bell pepper diced
  • 1 medium red bell pepper diced
  • 1 red onion diced
  • 1 (6.5 ounce) can sliced black olives drained


  • In a small bowl with a whisk, or in a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine olive oil, red wine vinegar, parmesan cheese, sesame seeds, oregano, poppy seeds, garlic, paprika, celery seed, and salt. Mix well and allow flavors to blend while preparing the salad.
  • Bring 4 quarts water and 1 tablespoon salt to boil. Add spaghetti and cook according to package directions, about 9 minutes. Drain well and rinse in cold water.
  • Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine zucchini, tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers, onion, and black olives. Add rinsed pasta and drizzle with salad dressing to taste (you don't have to use it all). Cover and chill at least 2 hours or overnight.


Adapted from Taste of Home.


Calories: 257kcalCarbohydrates: 26gProtein: 5gFat: 15gSaturated Fat: 2gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 1mgSodium: 70mgPotassium: 278mgFiber: 2gSugar: 3gVitamin A: 647IUVitamin C: 25mgCalcium: 54mgIron: 1mg
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Meggan Hill

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  1. This recipe looks so yummy and perfect for a planned potluck that I am going to in a few weeks. One question: do you use fresh grated parmesan cheese or can you use the grated dry parmesan cheese that come in a plastic container the you sprinkle on spaghetti?

    Thank you,5 stars

    1. Hi Mary, for this I would use the grated dry parm from the plastic container. I like that better on pasta salads because it’s saltier and I just LOVE the way it clings to the noodles. But it’s totally your preference, if you have a chunk of regular parm sitting around and you want to grate it, that’s great. But where I come from (Wisconsin) everyone uses the plastic container on pasta salads because they always have it on hand. I think we love what we grew up with! I hope this helps. I hope everyone likes the recipe! -Meggan