Easy Cold Pasta Salad

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 with a serving spoon and fork in a wooden bowl.

Easy Cold Pasta Salad

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!
5 from 15 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Salad
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 12 servings
Calories: 274kcal
Author: Meggan Hill

Ingredients

For the Italian salad dressing (or sub 8 oz store-bought, see note 1):

  • 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 bite-sized broccoli florets blanched if desired (see note 2)
  • 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 3)
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions

To make the Italian salad dressing:

  • In a large bowl, whisk together olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, honey, Dijon mustard, basil, oregano, parsley, and garlic powder. Season to taste with salt and pepper (I like 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper). Allow flavors to blend at room temperature while preparing the pasta salad.

To make the pasta salad:

  • Bring 4 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon salt to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain well, rinse with cold water, and drain again.
  • Meanwhile, combine broccoli florets, bell peppers, and red onion in a large bowl. Stir in cooled pasta. Add salad dressing to taste and Parmesan cheese and toss until uniformly combined. Store covered in the refrigerator until serving time.

Video

Notes

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Bite-sized pieces: Chop all your vegetables into small, even bite-sized pieces. That's so every bite gets a bit of everything!
  7. 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!

Nutrition

Calories: 274kcal | Carbohydrates: 32g | Protein: 9g | Fat: 12g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 7mg | Sodium: 141mg | Potassium: 191mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 497IU | Vitamin C: 45mg | Calcium: 112mg | Iron: 1mg
Tried this Recipe? Pin it for Later!Mention @CulinaryHill or tag #CulinaryHill!

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  1. Ridhi

    It’s perfect5 stars

  2. Diane

    Easy and quick to make. Made if for a BBQ yesterday, it was a hit! Everyone loved it! Substituted cheddar/mozzarella for the Parmesan because I didn’t have any and added a bit of fresh parsley. So yummy!5 stars

  3. Michael

    My daughter is picky about vinegar and red onions, but she ate it all except for some of the onions. I added some diced mozzarella which she especially liked.5 stars

  4. Ann Pepin

    Can rice noodles be used in this recipe to make it gluten free?

    1. meggan

      Hi Ann, I can’t think of any reason why not! If you like rice noodles, that’s all that matters. :) Thanks! -Meggan

  5. Prasong

    I did this dish for children and cooking with them, they love it.P5 stars

  6. Nicola Rose

    If I make this dish today, will the peppers still have the same crunch tomorrow when served? Worried they might go soggy overnight? 

    1. meggan

      Hi Nicola, I think they will be fine. But in case I am wrong, or if you don’t believe me, prep the peppers but keep them separate, in the fridge, until tomorrow. Just add them in, in the morning. You should be fine! It’s always better to be safe than sorry, and I’d hate for you to be disappointed. Good luck! I hope this helps! -Meggan

  7. Meg Gain

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

    1. meggan

      Hi Meg, yes sure! Why not! Sounds amazing. -Meggan :D

  8. sandra reason

    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. :)

  9. Gary Ward

    How long will this pasta salad be good for?

    1. meggan

      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!

  10. Irish

    Is the parmesan cheese fresh or powdered?

    1. meggan

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

  11. Brenda Weatherly

    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. meggan

      This sounds like my Piggly Wiggly Pasta salad but with noodles. If it is similar, you’re missing mayonnaise and bacon! But I don’t know for sure. Want to take a look? It’s not what you’re describing, but maybe along the same lines. Are you from the Midwest by any chance? Because what you’re describing sounds like the food of my homeland. :D https://www.culinaryhill.com/broccoli-salad-with-bacon-and-cheddar-cheese/

  12. Yolanda Childs

    Do have too use broccoli?5 stars

    1. meggan

      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.

  13. Michelle

    This was a good recipe, however, I feel like the broccoli should be cooked beforehand.5 stars

    1. meggan

      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.

  14. Marjorie

    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

  15. Carmen

    Delicious pasta.5 stars

  16. Paige

    Good food5 stars

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