Easy Cold Pasta Salad Recipe

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.

Easy cold pasta salad in a wooden bowl with a serving fork and spoon.
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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.
Easy cold pasta salad dressing in a clear jar on a white plate with a spoon.

How to make pasta salad:

  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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
    Separated easy cold pasta salad ingredients in a clear bowl.
  4. 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.
    Easy cold pasta salad in a wooden bowl with a serving fork and spoon.

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:

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

Easy Cold Pasta Salad Recipe

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 13 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Salad
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 12 servings
Calories: 275kcal
Author: Meggan Hill


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.



To blanch broccoli:
  1. Bring 2 quarts water and 1 tablespoon salt to boil.
  2. Add broccoli and cook until just tender and bright green, about 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Drain and immediately plunge into an ice bath to stop the cooking. 


Calories: 275kcal
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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?

    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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