This delicious and colorful California Pasta Salad is always a hit as part of a party menu. Make this easy pasta salad recipe up to a day ahead if you like; the flavors only get better as it marinates.

A bowl with California pasta salad.

Think outside of the pasta box! Your options for pasta salad can go far beyond short-cut noodles. (Although I’ll never turn down a scoop of The Best Macaroni Salad, bowtie-boosted BLT Pasta Salad, penne-strong Seafood Pasta Salad, or small-grain Orzo Pasta Salad with Roasted Vegetables.)

I spotted and sampled this creative pasta salad recipe at a potluck party I attended, and was instantly enamored with the idea of spaghetti noodles in pasta salad. My California Pasta Salad recipe punches up the color and flavor with several fresh vegetables and a simple homemade Red Wine Vinaigrette that’s infused with herbs and poppyseeds.

Table of Contents
  1. Recipe ingredients
  2. Ingredient notes
  3. Step-by-step instructions
  4. Recipe tips and variations
  5. Recipe FAQs
  6. California Pasta Salad Recipe

Recipe ingredients

Labeled ingredients for California pasta salad.

Ingredient notes

  • Thin spaghetti: Yes, I know Italian chefs will scoff at me recommending that you break the noodles into thirds. I strongly suggest that you follow suit, however; this allows the pasta to not only cook faster and fit easier into your pot, but also makes it easier to eat.
  • Grape tomatoes: Cherry tomatoes or chopped Roma, classic, or heirloom tomatoes can also pinch hit.
  • Canned black olives: I know these are polarizing, so feel free to omit. But I adore the briny element they add to the pasta salad.

Step-by-step instructions

  1. 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.
California pasta salad dressing in a ramekin.
  1. 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.
Pasta being drained in a colander.
  1. Meanwhile, in a large bowl add 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).
A bowl with California pasta salad ingredients.
  1. Toss to combine, cover, and chill at least 2 hours or overnight.
A bowl with California pasta salad.

Recipe tips and variations

  • Yield: This California Pasta Salad recipe makes a whopping 16 1-cup servings. Talk about perfect for parties, potlucks, or picnics! Feel free to halve the recipe if you’re sharing it with a smaller crew.
  • Storage: Transfer extra pasta salad to an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 4 days
  • Make ahead: California Pasta Salad can be assembled up to 3 days in advance. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Toss gently before serving. 
  • Cheese, please! If you enjoy your pasta salad with a bit of creamy dairy in the mix, toss in mozzarella bocconcini or crumble in some feta or goat cheese.
A plate with California pasta salad, fruit, chips and a croissant sandwich.

Recipe FAQs

What other pasta styles could I use for California Pasta Salad?

Angel hair, bucatini, or vermicelli would all fit the long, skinny style here. Of course, you can stick with a smaller noodle, too, if you prefer. Farfalle, macaroni, rotini, cavatappi, gemelli, ziti, or penne would also work wonderfully. Just note that pasta cooking times will vary.

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A bowl with California pasta salad.

California Pasta Salad

This delicious and colorful California Pasta Salad is always a hit as part of a party menu. Make this easy pasta salad recipe up to a day ahead if you like; the flavors only get better as it marinates.
5 from 26 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

Ingredients 

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 (see note 1)
  • 2 medium zucchini diced
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes halved (see note 2)
  • 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 (see note 3)

Instructions 

  • 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.
  • In a large bowl add 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). Toss to combine, cover, and chill at least 2 hours or overnight.

Recipe Video

Notes

  1. Thin spaghetti: Yes, I know Italian chefs will scoff at me recommending that you break the noodles into thirds. I strongly suggest that you follow suit, however; this allows the pasta to not only cook faster and fit easier into your pot, but also makes it easier to eat.
  2. Grape tomatoes: Cherry tomatoes or chopped Roma, classic, or heirloom tomatoes can also pinch hit.
  3. Canned black olives: I know these are polarizing, so feel free to omit. But I adore the briny element they add to the pasta salad.
  4. Yield: This California Pasta Salad recipe makes a whopping 16 1-cup servings. Talk about perfect for parties, potlucks, or picnics! Feel free to halve the recipe if you’re sharing it with a smaller crew.
  5. Storage: Transfer extra pasta salad to an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 4 days
  6. Make ahead: California Pasta Salad can be assembled up to 3 days in advance. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Toss gently before serving. 

Nutrition

Serving: 1cupCalories: 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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Comments

  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