An easy Cold Pasta Salad recipe with broccoli, peppers, zesty Italian dressing and Parmesan cheese. Make it ahead; the flavor gets even better as it sits!

Easy cold pasta salad in a wooden bowl with a serving fork and spoon.

Pasta salad without mayo means that you can leave the bowl out a little longer, and the easy vinaigrette marinates the vegetables, so it really does get better the longer it sits. You’re not imagining it!

Of course, there are tons of fun ways you can change up this salad, depending on the season and what you have hanging out in the veggie drawer. I always prefer a springy pasta shape like fusilli to catch all of the dressing, but you pick your favorite.

Recipe ingredients:

Easy cold pasta salad ingredients in various bowls.

Ingredient notes:

  • Italian Dressing: My go-to dressing for most cold noodle veggie salads. I also love red wine vinaigrette or you can substitute a bottle of store-bought dressing.
  • Broccoli: If you’d like to blanch the broccoli (optional), bring 2 quarts water and 1 tablespoon salt to boil. Add broccoli and cook until just tender and bright green, about 3 to 4 minutes. Drain and immediately plunge into an ice bath to stop the cooking.
  • Red onion: Substitute your favorite onion. If your onions are angry (making you cry), you can mellow them by soaking the slices in a bowl of ice water for 10 minutes or longer.

Step-by-step instructions:

  1. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water until just al dente. Drain the pasta and rinse under cold water to cool the noodles off, then drain again. Add the cooked and completely cooled pasta to a big bowl with the vegetables.Separated easy cold pasta salad ingredients in a clear bowl.
  2. Pour in the salad dressing and gently toss to combine. Next add in the grated Parmesan cheese–add more if you like– and toss again. Store the pasta salad in a covered bowl until it’s time to eat.
    Dressing being poured onto easy cold pasta salad in a clear bowl.

Recipe tips and variations:

  • Don’t overcook the pasta. Cook the pasta until just tender, so it doesn’t get gummy in the dressing. And rinse! Rinsing is a crucial step to help wash off any extra starch clinging to the noodles.
  • Customize: The whole recipe is up for customization, so change out your vegetables and cheese or add more mix-ins like meat, beans, nuts, and pickled things. Choose your favorites but not everything. A blend of flavors, colors, and textures is ideal.
  • Bite-sized pieces: Chop all your vegetables into small, even bite-sized pieces. That’s so every bite gets a bit of everything!
  • Make ahead: This salad is great to make a day or two ahead, so the dressing really soaks in and marinates the veggies. Add more dressing if you need it!

Easy cold pasta salad in a wooden bowl with a serving fork and spoon.

More pasta salad recipes:

Easy cold pasta salad in a wooden bowl with a serving fork and spoon.

Easy Cold Pasta Salad

This easy Cold Pasta Salad has broccoli, bell peppers, zesty Italian dressing and Parmesan cheese. It's simple and always a favorite!
5 from 21 votes
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 10 mins
Total Time 30 mins
Servings 12 servings (1 cup each)
Course Salad
Cuisine American
Calories 274

Ingredients 

For the Italian dressing:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice from 1 lemon
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder or 1 clove minced fresh garlic
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the pasta salad:

  • 16 ounces rotini or other small pasta
  • 2 cups broccoli florets chopped and blanched if desired (see note 1)
  • 1 red bell pepper stemmed, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 yellow bell pepper stemmed, seeded, and chopped
  • 1/2 red onion peeled and thinly sliced (see note 2)
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions 

  • To make the dressing, whisk together olive oil, red wine vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard, basil, oregano, parsley, garlic powder, and salt and pepper to taste (I like ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper).
  • 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.
  • In a large bowl, add the cooled pasta, broccoli, bell peppers, red onion, and Parmesan cheese. Drizzle with salad dressing and toss to combine.

Recipe Video

Notes

  1. Broccoli: If you'd like to blanch the broccoli (optional), bring 2 quarts water and 1 tablespoon salt to boil. Add broccoli and cook until just tender and bright green, about 3 to 4 minutes. Drain and immediately plunge into an ice bath to stop the cooking.
  2. Red onion: If you onion seems angry when you slice it (makes you cry), marinate it in the salad dressing for 5 minutes, or up to 30 minutes, before assembling the rest of the salad.
  3. Yield: This recipe makes at least 12 (1-cup) servings.
  4. Storage: Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  5. Make ahead: The Italian salad dressing can be made up to 3 days in advance. Store covered in the refrigerator. The pasta can be cooked, drained, rinsed, and cooled up to 1 day in advance. The vegetables can be prepped the day before and stored separately in the refrigerator.
  6. More mix-ins: Get creative with diced cucumbers, cubes of cheese, sliced salami, a can of olives, or your favorite fresh herbs.
  7. Make the vinaigrette your own: Substitute balsamic vinegar for the red wine vinegar or add a pinch of red pepper flakes.

Nutrition

Serving: 1cupCalories: 274kcalCarbohydrates: 32gProtein: 9gFat: 12gSaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 7mgSodium: 141mgPotassium: 199mgFiber: 2gSugar: 3gVitamin A: 499IUVitamin C: 45mgCalcium: 113mgIron: 1mg
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Comments

  1. Can I serve this with antipasto skewers? ( artichoke, tomatoes, mozzarella, prosciutto ) for dinner?
    Thanks!

  2. i made this today using store bought Italian dressing. It’s fantastic!!! I used real Parmesan as that’s what I usually use. Serving it tomorrow for my church group. I hope there’s some left over for me. :)

    1. Hi Gary, food safety-wise I’d say 4 days. Quality-wise, 2 to 3 days? It’s for sure GREAT the second day, probably even better than the first day (like if you make it ahead). It’s still really tasty the day after that (let’s call it Day 3). Beyond that, eventually the vegetables just start to deteriorate in the fridge. Does that make sense? But it doesn’t have garlic in it, so you don’t have to worry about botulism. It just becomes a matter of how crunchy you want the vegetables to be, or if you’re okay eating peppers that are 3 days’ soggy. Good luck. Let me know if you need anything else. Thanks Gary!

    1. It’s powdered, “grated.” The fresh shredded kind also works. You can use whichever you prefer.

  3. I’m looking for a recipe that has tri-color rotini, broccoli,red onion, sugar and shredded cheddar cheese in it. Seems like there was another ingredient in it but I can’t remember. I made this many years ago. Can someone help me, please ???

    1. No! You don’t have to use something if you don’t want to. You can also add anything else that interests you. Consider this recipe a starting point for negotiations! Thanks Yolanda.

    1. A quick blanch or something, huh? Good idea. I think you’re right! I’ve never done that, but it would definitely get rid of the bitterness of the broccoli.

  4. Really nice pasta salad especially on a day like today when it’s super hot. I followed it exactly as you suggested. It worked out perfectly since I had all the ingredients on hand but I can see this could be made with a Mediterranean twist with olives, feta, or bucatini, etc. I always add fresh herbs if I have them, so parsley and/or basil. Thanks for sharing. 5 stars