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!
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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!
More pasta salad recipes:
Easy Cold Pasta Salad
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
- 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.
- 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: 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.
- Yield: This recipe makes at least 12 (1-cup) servings.
- Storage: Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- 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.
- More mix-ins: Get creative with diced cucumbers, cubes of cheese, sliced salami, a can of olives, or your favorite fresh herbs.
- Make the vinaigrette your own: Substitute balsamic vinegar for the red wine vinegar or add a pinch of red pepper flakes.