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!
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.
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!
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:
- The Best Macaroni Salad
- Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
- Seafood Pasta Salad
- Greek Pasta Salad
- Frog Eye Salad
- Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad
- Orzo Pasta Salad with Roasted Vegetables
- BLT Pasta Salad
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.