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Zesty Italian Pasta Salad

Homemade zesty Italian pasta salad recipe is the perfect side dish to take to a summer bbq, party, or picnic. It’s flavorful, feeds a crowd, and is easy to customize.

You’ll love this easy pasta salad for a few reasons:

  • it incorporates fresh vegetables – which add a nice textural contrast to the al dente pasta.
  • is incredibly versatile – substitute or add in extra veggies depending on personal preferences or dietary needs (I’ve included several great options down below).
  • can be made in advance and tastes best when chilled in the fridge for a few hours before serving.

The Best Type of Pasta For Cold Pasta Salad

You have several pasta options when it comes to pasta salad, but you don’t want to use just any kind of noodles.

The best pasta salad uses a short pasta shape such as fusilli, farfalle (also known as bow-tie), or rotini. These types of pasta work best because the dressing and other salad ingredients adhere to the crevices in the pasta rather than sinking to the bottom of the bowl.

Ingredients

Zesty pasta salad

  • Fusilli pasta (corkscrew-shaped pasta) – use gluten-free if necessary
  • Orange and red bell pepper – add freshness and crunch.
  • Fresh parsley – use flat-leaf parsley, also called Italian parsley.
  • Salami – I used uncured soppressata, but any kind will do for saltiness and smokiness.
  • Shallot – gives it a delicate onion flavor.
  • Mozzarella – either dairy free mozzarella cheese or fresh mozzarella pearls if not dairy free.

Homemade zesty Italian dressing ingredients

  • Extra virgin olive oil – a flavorful homemade dressing base.
  • Red wine vinegar – for tanginess.
  • Honey – for a hint of sweetness.
  • Italian seasoning – a flavorful blend of dried herbs.
  • Garlic powder – for more flavor.
  • Kosher salt – to taste.

How to Make Cold Italian Pasta Salad

Step 1. Cook pasta according to the package directions.

Step 2. While the pasta is cooking, dice the peppers, mince the parsley, salami, and shallot. Set them and the mozzarella aside.

Step 3. Add the dressing ingredients to a blender and blend until well emulsified.

Step 4. Drain the pasta and rinse with cold water. Shake off any excess water and add the cold pasta to a large mixing bowl. 

Step 5. Add in the rest of the salad ingredients and pour the dressing over the top. Toss thoroughly until well combined. 

Step 6. Cover the bowl and let chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving so the flavors can meld together.

Make It Your Way: Substitutions & Variations

Please remember that recipes are just a starting point. 

How can you make this zesty Italian pasta salad using what you already have? Here are some ideas…

  • Make it gluten-free – use your favorite gluten free pasta. I love the Jovial brand.
  • No fusilli pasta? – use other similarly sized pasta shapes such as farfalle (also known as bow-tie pasta) or rotini. 
  • No orange or red bell pepper? – you can use all one color or a mix of a few colors. I prefer yellow, orange, and red bell peppers, but green bell peppers will also work, they’re just more bitter.
  • No salami? – use pepperoni (I recommend the Applegate brand), but anything you have is fine.
  • Make it plant-based – omit the salami and add garbanzo/chickpeas or another Italian white bean.
  • No shallot? – Use finely minced red onion or omit it.
  • No homemade dairy free mozzarella? – use a store-bought option. Mikoyo’s is a great brand.
  • No parsley? – use other fresh herbs such as basil or thyme. If using fresh thyme, greatly reduce the amount as its flavor is quite intense.
  • No Italian seasoning? – use a mix of basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and sage
  • Add-ins – black olives, green olives, cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, lightly sautéed mushrooms, parmesan cheese (dairy free or regular), sun dried tomatoes, feta cheese, etc.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the best way to store pasta salad?

Store pasta salad in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.

What to serve with pasta salad?

Pasta salad is a great side dish to serve at gatherings, BBQs, potlucks, etc. You can serve just about anything with pasta salad, but here are some ideas… burgers, quinoa veggie burgers, turkey club sandwiches, or a Spanish zucchini omelet.

It also can be served with other sides such as skillet blackened corn, healthy broccoli salad, or zucchini corn salad. It’s also delicious served with fresh summer produce such as watermelon, honeydew, or peach tomato salad.

More Salad Recipes

Zesty Italian Pasta Salad

5 from 3 votes
A rectangular platter of homemade zesty Italian pasta salad.
Homemade zesty Italian pasta salad recipe is the perfect side dish to take to a summer bbq, party, or picnic. It's flavorful, feeds a crowd, and is easy to customize.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Chill Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Serving Size 8

Ingredients
 

Pasta Salad

  • 1 pound fusilli pasta
  • 2 cups red, orange, or yellow bell pepper diced
  • 1-2 cups dairy free mozzarella cheese, torn into pieces use mozzarella pearls if not dairy free
  • ¾ cup salami cubed
  • cup flat-leaf parsley minced
  • ¼ cup shallot diced

Homemade zesty Italian dressing

Instructions

  • Cook pasta according to the package directions.
  • While the pasta is cooking, dice the peppers, mince the parsley, salami, and shallot. Set them and the mozzarella aside.
  • Add the dressing ingredients to a blender and blend until well emulsified.
  • Drain the pasta and rinse with cold water. Shake off any excess water and add the cold pasta to a large mixing bowl. 
  • Add in the rest of the salad ingredients and pour the dressing over the top. Toss thoroughly until well combined. 
  • Cover the bowl and let chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving so the flavors can meld together.

Notes

Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
See the blog post for ideas on what to serve with pasta salad.

Make It Your Way: Substitutions & Variations

Make it gluten-free – use your favorite gluten free pasta. I love the Jovial brand.
No fusilli pasta? – use other similarly sized pasta shapes such as farfalle (also known as bow-tie pasta) or rotini. 
No orange or red bell pepper? – you can use all one color or a mix of a few colors. I prefer yellow, orange, and red bell peppers, but green bell peppers will also work, they’re just more bitter.
No salami? – use pepperoni (I recommend the Applegate brand), but anything you have is fine.
Make it plant-based – omit the salami and add garbanzo/chickpeas or another Italian white bean.
No shallot? – Use finely minced red onion or omit it.
No homemade dairy free mozzarella? – use a store-bought option. Mikoyo’s is a great brand.
No parsley? – use other fresh herbs such as basil or thyme. If using fresh thyme, greatly reduce the amount as its flavor is quite intense.
No Italian seasoning? – use a mix of basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and sage
Add-ins – black olives, green olives, cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, lightly sautéed mushrooms, parmesan cheese (dairy free or regular), sun dried tomatoes, feta cheese, etc.

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