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!

For more potluck favorites, try my broccoli salad with bacon, seven layer salad, and Cowboy caviar! Round out your menu with sloppy joes, beer brats, or grilled tri tip.

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!
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This easy Cold Pasta Salad recipe is a great side dish all year round. Children and adults alike gobble it down and it travels well. And, it's an ideal make-ahead dish because the flavor only improves as it chills.

How do you make a simple pasta salad?

I like to select just a few veggies, not everything in the drawer, that taste good together and look colorful. I like broccoli, bell peppers, and red onion.

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.

Easy Cold Pasta Salad Recipe - a photo of a clear bowl full various ingredients for a pasta salad on a dark blue background - click photo for full written recipe

How do you make a dressing for pasta salad?

My friends and family always use bottled salad dressing for this salad. Anything zesty Italian tastes great!

If you prefer to make your own, my homemade Italian dressing is delicious and this simple Red Wine Vinaigrette is great, too.

Strawberry spinach salad dressing ingredients in various bowls.

Since this pasta salad has no mayonnaise, you don't have to worry (as much) about spoilage while you enjoy a beautiful day. And, you'll love the color and crunch from the vegetables!

What else can you add to pasta salad?

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)
  • Meat: ham, turkey, leftover chicken, pepperoni, bacon
  • More veggies: Cauliflower, cucumbers, shredded carrots, tomatoes, zucchini
  • Olives: black, green with pimentos, kalamata
  • Canned chickpeas or beans: drained and rinsed (or roasted)

How do you make a cold spaghetti salad?

My California Pasta Salad uses cold spaghetti noodles, so check that one out!

More Pasta Salad recipes:

5 from 11 votes

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!
Course Salad
Cuisine American
Keyword broccoli, pasta
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 12 servings
Calories 275kcal

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.

Recipe Notes

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. 

Nutrition

Calories: 275kcal

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  1. Prasong

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

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. 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. :)

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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/

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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

  11. Carmen

    Delicious pasta.5 stars

  12. Paige

    Good food5 stars

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