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!
Need some other winning potluck recipes? Whip up this amazing seven layer salad, or easy, breezy cowboy caviar...all you need is a bag of chips and a passion for beans. Serve it up with this straight-from-Wisconsin recipe for beer brats, a potato salad to end all potato salads, and lots of pirate punch.
One of the most popular recipes on this site, and for very delicious reasons. Young, old, and somewhere in between, everyone loves it.
Pasta salad without mayo means that you can leave the bowl out a little longer, too. 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.
You don't even have to wait for a party. Make a bowl and have light lunches and snacks all week long.
Making Cold Pasta Salad for the hungry masses? 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.
Making the pasta salad dressing:
This vinaigrette recipe is my go-to for most cold noodle veggie salads. Basically, it's my homemade Italian Dressing without the Parmesan cheese. (Don't worry, we add the cheese later!)
I keep a jar in the fridge because it tastes so much better than Newman's own, Olive Garden, or Wishbone.
But if you need a party salad immediately, you can go the store-bought route. Just pick something in the 'zesty Italian' family.
To make the dressing, whisk together the olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, honey, and herbs. (I use about 1 1/2 teaspoons of Italian Seasoning for one batch of dressing.) Add some salt and pepper to your taste, and set this aside while you're assembling the salad.
How to make pasta salad:
- 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.
- While the pasta is cooking, get all your vegetables ready to go. I recommend blanching the broccoli for a few minutes and then cooling in an ice bath to set the color and remove some of the bitterness. But if you're in a rush, you can skip that step.
- Next, add the cooked and completely cooled pasta to a big bowl with the prepped vegetables. Then 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.
Tips and tricks for making the best pasta salad:
- Be choosy. I like to select just a few veggies that taste good together and look colorful, not necessarily everything in the drawer. Broccoli, bell peppers, and red onion are a pretty delicious threesome, but you can customize your pasta salad as you see fit. Good ideas below.
- Make ahead. This salad is great to make a day or two ahead, so the dressing really soaks in and marinates the veg.
- Make it fun. Maybe this goes without saying, but you have my permission to choose fun, bouncy pasta shapes, pick the brightest produce, and be bold with the dressing.
- When in doubt, blanch your vegetables. Broccoli, cauliflower and even green beans all taste better and become a little more tender (and colorful) when blanched in boiling water and plunged into an ice bath to crisp up. It's the best way I know to get people to eat their vegetables.
- Bite-sized pieces. Chop all your vegetables into small, even bite-sized pieces. That's so every bite gets a bit of everything!
- 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.
Other delicious pasta salad variations:
Looking to change things up? Here are some of my favorite mix-in ideas (even better if you have something on hand already!):
- Cheese: cubed or shredded (cheddar, mozzarella, feta, queso fresco, romano)
- Meat: ham, turkey, leftover chicken, chopped pepperoni, crisp bacon bits
- More veggies: Cauliflower, diced cucumbers, shredded carrots, cherry tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, zucchini, radishes, green beans, jicama
- Olives and pickled things: black olives, green olives with pimentos, kalamata olives, capers, chopped preserved lemons
- Canned chickpeas or beans: drained and rinsed (or roasted)
- Grains: farro, quinoa, or lentils
- Nuts: pine nuts, sunflower seeds, slivered almonds
More Pasta Salad recipes:
- The Best Macaroni Salad A creamy pasta salad for everyone!
- Hawaiian Macaroni Salad. Slightly overdone pasta give this traditional part of a Hawaiian lunch the finishing touch.
- Seafood Pasta Salad. Luxurious and oh, so good.
- Greek Pasta Salad. Summer just wouldn't be summer without it. Chock full of crispy cool vegetables and briny cheese.
- Frog Eye Salad. More of a dessert than anything, but it does use tiny pasta!
- Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad. Cajun seasoning and bacon make this pasta salad pop.
- Orzo Pasta Salad with Roasted Vegetables. A little smoky and absolutely delicious.
- BLT Pasta Salad. A party fave made with classic BLT ingredients.
- California Pasta Salad. Looking for a cold spaghetti salad recipe? This one is fabulous!
Easy Cold Pasta Salad Recipe
For the Italian salad dressing (or sub 8 oz store-bought):
- 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 notes)
- 1 red bell pepper stemmed, seeded, and chopped
- 1 yellow bell pepper stemmed, seeded, and chopped
- 1/2 red onion peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
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.
- 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.