Pasta salad is a tasty and versatile dish that has become a staple at gatherings, picnics, and barbecues! Its combination of flavorful pasta, crisp vegetables, and zesty dressing makes it a crowd-pleaser. We're sharing a classic recipe along with many ways to customize to your preferences!
We're sharing our CLASSIC pasta salad recipe. But honestly, your options are nearly endless with this side dish! You can swap out everything from the shape of the noodles you use, to the type of dressing you mix in, to whatever veggies you have on hand. Once you find a combination you like, you can create your “signature” dish for all the parties to come!
The Canvas: Choosing the Right Pasta
The foundation of any great pasta salad is, of course, the pasta itself. Most commonly used are rotini (spiral) and bowtie, but almost any shape will do! You can even get REALLY fancy and use tortellini! Ensure your pasta is cooked al dente, or on the harder side. If your pasta is too soft to begin with, it will only get softer after absorbing the dressing.
Don't be afraid to experiment with which vegetables you choose to incorporate into your pasta salad! You don't want to choose too many different vegetables for one dish, because the pasta should have a higher or equal ratio to the mix-ins. Choosing about 3-5 add-ins to your pasta salad would be perfect!
Some simple and inexpensive options include: black olives, diced bell pepper, halved cherry tomatoes, diced purple onion, chopped cucumbers, and small broccoli florets.
You can go with a Mediterranean theme, opting for things like sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, artichoke hearts and kalamata olives.
Another common pasta salad add-in is cheese, and again you have many options here!
Depending on the flavor profile of your salad, consider adding: mozzarella balls, crumbled feta, crumbled cotija, blue cheese, or aged parmesan.
Dress It Up
The last, and arguably the most important, ingredient is the DRESSING. Without it, you have a bunch of bland raw crunchy vegetables. With it, you have a zesty flavorful crispy salad! Buying premade Italian dressing is the easiest and most convenient way to go and tastes great on pasta and vegetables. If you're looking to step out and try something less traditional, here are several dressing alternatives to WOW your crowd:
- Pesto: consider tossing your pasta salad in a pesto sauce made with fresh basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, garlic, and olive oil.
- Ranch: Creamy and tangy, ranch dressing combines mayonnaise, sour cream, buttermilk, and a mix of herbs and spices. It works well with pasta salads featuring chicken or bacon.
- Honey Mustard: A sweet and tangy dressing made with honey, Dijon mustard, olive oil, and apple cider vinegar.
- Yogurt: For a lighter option, consider a yogurt-based dressing with Greek yogurt, lemon juice, herbs, and a touch of honey.
- Lemon Garlic Dressing: Fresh and zesty, a lemon garlic dressing consists of lemon juice, olive oil, minced garlic, Dijon mustard, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Perfect Classic Pasta Salad Recipe
Perfect Pasta Salad
- 8 cups rotini pasta (spiral) You may substitute any pasta you like
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2 large cucumbers, diced
- 1 large red onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup black olived, sliced
- 1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 2 cups Italian dressing, or see below for dressing recipe
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package instructions until al dente. Drain and rinse the pasta under cold water to stop the cooking process. Allow it to cool completely.
- While the pasta is cooking, prepare the vegetables. Halve the cherry tomatoes, dice the cucumbers, finely chop the red onion, slice the black olives, and crumble the feta cheese. Chop the fresh parsley.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooled pasta, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, black olives, feta cheese, and fresh parsley.
- Pour the prepared dressing over the pasta and vegetables. Gently toss everything together until well coated with the dressing.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the pasta salad for at least 1 hour, allowing the flavors to meld and the salad to chill.
- Before serving, give the pasta salad a final toss. Garnish with additional parsley or feta if desired. Serve chilled and enjoy this classic Italian pasta salad with family and friends.
Homemade Italian Dressing Recipe
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- 2 tsp dijon mustard
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- salt and pepper to taste
- In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, minced garlic, dried oregano, salt, and pepper.
- Add salt and pepper taste.
- Cover or seal and store in the refrigerator.
- Use extra dressing within 3 weeks.
Now that we've shared some classic combos, we'd love to know what your favorite pasta salad mix-ins are! Do you have a clear favorite when it comes to pasta, veggies or dressings? Let us know in the comment!
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