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How To Make The Best Italian Pasta Salad

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How To Make The Best Italian Pasta Salad

Takeaway:

A cold pasta salad makes a great side dish for the warmer months. It packs in carbs and a serving of vegetables while remaining light and refreshing. Make it in a big batch and serve it up for lunch or a side dish.

A cold pasta salad makes a great side dish for the warmer months. It packs in carbs and a serving of vegetables while remaining light and refreshing. Make it in a big batch and serve it up for lunch or a side dish.

The best part? Pasta salad recipes are quick and simple. If you can cook pasta and chop veggies, you’re ready to toss together an Italian pasta salad!

Skip to the end for some easy pasta salad recipes. If you want to up your game or it’s your first Italian pasta salad, read through for more information.

What Makes a Pasta Salad Recipe Italian?

What Makes a Pasta Salad Recipe Italian?

Basically, pasta salad with Italian dressing and sometimes Italian seasoning make it Italian, but it can get a little more complex than that.

Pasta salads can be prepared in various ways. Since you always have to include pasta, it’s the difference between the dressing, vegetables, and any other add-ins. For example, macaroni salad is a specific type of creamy pasta salad tossed with mayonnaise.

A typical Italian pasta salad recipe: 

  • Uses larger, more textured pasta
  • Uses an Italian dressing
  • Adds cheese 
  • Sometimes calls for meat — usually salami

Tips for the Best Pasta Salad

Let’s be honest. You won’t need a ton of guidance before making pasta salad. Guidance is imperative for something like folding a croissant, which is intricate and labor-intensive.

But pasta salad is more like riding a culinary bicycle. Once you’ve learned the first time, you’ll always know how to make it. Pasta, toppings, dressing, done.

We have for you here the little things that bring any pasta salad recipe to the next level.

  1. Salt the pasta water.
  2. Cook your pasta al dente — Italian for “to the tooth.” AKA, take the pasta off the stove while it still has a bite to it. You don’t want it to be chewy. If you cook it till it’s too soft, you’ll end up with mush salad.
  3. All Italian pasta salad recipes are cold pasta salad recipes…don’t mix your ingredients while the pasta is still warm! Once you drain the pasta, rinse it several times in cold water or dunk it into ice water. Either way, let it rest in the water for a couple of minutes to cool. 
  4. To get the best in every bite, dice the veggies (and meat and cheese) to roughly the same size. Get them small enough for forkfuls. Use a nice mixture of vegetables for a colorful presentation and plenty of pleasing textures.
  5. You can substitute homemade pasta salad dressing for bottled dressing and vice versa. Or change around the veggies. Don’t let the recipe dictate your pasta salad. It’s a dish where you can safely subtract, add, and substitute with abandon.

3 Simple Italian Pasta Salad Recipes

  • As we mentioned before, choose a medium-sized pasta with a good texture – from spiraling rotini and fusilli to penne or farfalle. 
  • These kinds of pasta will hold up well to an Italian pasta salad’s hearty ingredients and grab onto plenty of vinaigrette.
  • For an extra healthy pasta salad, swap out for whole-grain or veggie/high protein pasta.
  • These are whole-box recipes for a big batch of pasta salad (6-9 servings). Remember, you can save it in the fridge for 3 – 5 days, and it makes excellent leftovers. Halve the ingredients for more manageable portions.

The Hearty Meat and Cheese Edition

Adapted from Spend with Pennies Italian Pasta Salad.

Ingredients

  • 16 oz dried pasta
  • 1 ½ cups Italian vinaigrette 
  • 10 oz salami, chopped or sausage, diced
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella balls, drained and chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
  • ⅓ cup black olives, halved, to taste
  • ½ small green bell pepper, chopped
  • ½ small orange bell pepper, chopped
  • ½ small red bell pepper, chopped
  • ¾ cup pepperoncini, chopped
  • ⅓ cup red onion, diced
  • ½ cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • ⅓ cup parsley, chopped
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning

How to Prepare

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta for about 6 – 10 minutes. Drain and quickly cool through rinsing or ice bath, as described above.
  2. Add pasta and the other ingredients to a large bowl. Pour in the dressing and toss until everything is well coated.
  3. Season additionally as needed to taste. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  4. Serve and enjoy!

The Veggie Surprise With Cheese + Homemade Dressing

Adapted from Inspired Taste Quick and Easy Pasta Salad.

Ingredients

for pasta salad

  • 16 oz dried pasta
  • 1 medium bell pepper, sliced
  • ½ a medium zucchini, sliced
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 5 scallions, sliced
  • ¼ cup banana peppers or pepperoncini, to taste
  • 1 cup black olives, halved, to taste
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 5 oz fresh mozzarella balls, drained and chopped (about 1 cup)
  • ¼ cup parsley or basil, chopped

Ingredients

for dressing

  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ⅓ cup red or white wine vinegar
  • ½ clove garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp dried oregano
  • ½ tsp fine salt
  • 2 – 3 tbsp pepperoncini juice, to taste
  • 2 pinches of sugar

How to Prepare

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta for about 6 – 10 minutes. Drain and quickly cool through rinsing or ice bath, as described above.
  2. Add your dressing ingredients to a small bowl and whisk to combine.
  3. Add pasta and the other ingredients to a large bowl. Pour in the dressing and toss until everything is well coated.
  4. Season additionally as needed to taste. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  5. Serve and enjoy!

The Simple Salad with Feta

Adapted from Together as Family Easy Italian Pasta Salad.

Ingredients

  • 16 oz dried pasta
  • 1 ½ cup Italian vinaigrette
  • 1 large cucumber, chopped (optional: peeled)
  • 2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 12 oz crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 oz black olives, sliced, to taste
  • ⅓ cup red onion, diced

How to Prepare

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta for about 6 – 10 minutes. Drain and quickly cool through rinsing or ice bath, as described above.
  2. Add pasta and the other ingredients to a large bowl. Pour in the dressing and toss until everything is well coated.
  3. Season to taste. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  4. Serve and enjoy!

Takeaway

Now you’re ready for the first summer pasta salad of the season. Or the second, fourth, or ninth. No judgment. However often you’re making this flexible dish, just have fun with it. In a world filled with pasta salads, no two renditions ever have to be the same. 

Go forth, and remix these Italian pasta salad recipes (and any others) to your heart’s content.

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