Fresh and flavorful, this zesty Italian Pasta Salad is chock full of bouncy rotini, your favorite bits of an antipasto platter, and a homemade balsamic dressing. Make a giant batch right now—it’s the speediest possible way to delight your tastebuds.
Basta, basta! Make Sunday dinner this week with Italian Sausage and Peppers, and a big bubbling pot of the easiest Homemade Meat Sauce you'll ever make. There's also room for the best Focaccia bread in the world, and Tiramisu for dessert.
As it warms up outside, I usually feel less and less like cooking—that is, making hot food—for dinner. Enter Italian Pasta Salad, a genius recipe that has flavor for days, is endlessly adaptable, and only gets better with time.
If ever there was a party in a bowl, it’s this recipe right here. There’s not a drop of mayonnaise in sight, either, so it’s picnic and potluck friendly. (Looking for a pasta salad with mayo?) I like making it with rotini, a fun shape that will hold onto the balsamic vinaigrette making every bite delicious. But you can use any pasta variety you have on hand: penne, farfalle, fusilli, cavatappi, or orecchiette.
Making Italian Pasta Salad for the week ahead? Just click and slide the number next to “servings” on the recipe card below to adjust the ingredients to match how many you’re feeding—the recipe does the math for you, it’s that easy.
What’s in Italian Pasta Salad:
Want to make this pasta salad even quicker and easier? Instead of searching out little jars of this and that, find the best grocery store salad bar in your neighborhood and get most of your ingredients there.
- Salami slices. Or pepperoni, cappicola, or any Italian meat you can find. Want an Italian pasta salad with no meat? Just leave it out.
- Mozzarella cheese. Chopped into bite-sized pieces (or use mini mozzarella balls or pearls).
- Roasted red peppers. The kind in a jar that last a long time in the fridge, or roast peppers yourself.
- Pepperoncini peppers. I buy the sliced ones.
- Chopped celery. Celery is crucial. It's light, refreshing, crunchy, and not salty. It helps balance out all the other soft, salty ingredients like, mozzarella, salami, roasted red peppers, capers, and pepperoncini. AKA everything.
If you like, you can also add or substitute:
- Chopped fresh basil
- Cherry tomatoes
- Red onion
- Black or Kalamata olives
- Marinated artichokes
- Sun dried tomatoes
- Toasted pine nuts
Just be wary of adding too many soft, salty ingredients. Salami, mozzarella, roasted red peppers, capers, and pepperoncini are all soft and salty. You want balance!
Making the pasta salad dressing:
Ditch the pricey store-bought bottle of balsamic and make your own balsamic vinaigrette in seconds. I love a perfectly balanced vinaigrette, and this one really sparkles. See the recipe card for exact ingredient amounts, in case you're making a different amount.
To start, whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey, and some salt and pepper in a bowl. You can also add the ingredients to a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid and gently shake the dressing to combine.
While you prep the other ingredients, let the dressing sit out at room temperature so the flavors meld together.
How to make Italian Pasta Salad:
- To start, cook the pasta in a big pot of salted water. Cook 8 to 10 minutes (or according to the directions on the package) until tender. Don't overcook the pasta.
- Once cooked, drain the hot water off the pasta and rinse under cold water until cool. Then drain the pasta again.
- Next, add the antipasto ingredients to a big bowl along with the cooked, cooled pasta. Pour in the balsamic dressing and stir until everything is tossed and combined.
- Adjust the seasoning, adding more salt or pepper if needed. Before serving, sprinkle on the fresh parsley or other green Italian herbs.
Tips for making classic Italian Pasta Salad:
- Go bold. As long as you don’t overdo it on the salt, you simply cannot make a bad version of this cold pasta salad. Jazz it up with extra spicy peppers, colorful crunchy veg, and lots of extra herbs. (If you do make it too salty, just add in some more cooked pasta to balance everything out.)
- Make ahead. This no mayo pasta salad gets even better the longer it marinates. The dressing has a chance to soak into every nook and cranny. Make it up to a few days ahead and serve with fresh herbs.
- Bite sized is best. But the ingredients into small pieces so you get a little of everything with every forkful.
- Al dente, please. Unlike Hawaiian Macaroni Salad, you should be careful not to overcook the pasta in this recipe. Overcooked noodles can get too gummy.
- Cool the pasta. Be sure to cool the cooked pasta with cold water before you add the other ingredients. The water rinses off the extra starch on the noodles, which keeps the pasta salad at its best.
Other fun (and sometimes healthy) pasta salads you absolutely, positively need to try this summer:
- Greek Pasta Salad. Mediterranean flavors at their most crunchy and delicious.
- Best Macaroni Salad. A kitchen sink classic pasta salad with ham, bacon, cheese...the works.
- Seafood Pasta Salad. A creamy pasta salad with shrimp, crab, and maybe even lobster.
- Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad. With Cajun chicken and bacon.
- California Pasta Salad. Colorful and fresh.
- Orzo Pasta Salad with Roasted Vegetables. A great way to use up all the veggies.
- Hawaiian Mac Salad. A classic part of a traditional Hawaiian plate lunch.
Italian Pasta Salad Recipe
For the balsamic vinaigrette:
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard
- 2 teaspoons honey or maple syrup optional
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the pasta salad:
- 16 ounces rotini or other small pasta
- 1 stalk celery minced (1/2 cup)
- 1/2 cup roasted red peppers drained and minced
- 6 ounces sliced mozzarella chopped into 1/4-inch pieces (1 1/4 cups)
- 6 ounces sliced salami chopped into 1/4-inch pieces (1 1/4 cups)
- 1/4 cup sliced pepperoncini
- 1/4 cup capers
- Minced fresh parsley for garnish, optional
To make the balsamic vinaigrette:
- In a small bowl, add olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard, honey, and salt and pepper to taste (I like 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper). Whisk to combine. Allow flavors to blend at room temperature while preparing the pasta salad.
To make the pasta salad:
- In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon salt to a boil. Add pasta and cook until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain well, rinse with cold water, and drain again.
- To a large bowl, add celery, roasted red peppers, mozzarella, salami, pepperoncini, and capers, and cooled pasta. Drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette to taste and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper and garnish with fresh parsley if desired.