Italian Pasta Salad (Family Favorite!)
This filling and flavorful Italian pasta salad comes together in minutes! Packed with fresh pasta, meat, cheese, veggies, and a homemade Italian dressing, this side dish is a show-stopper. Perfect for summer BBQs and potlucks you will want to make this all summer long!
Let’s talk pasta salad! It’s a summer staple, right? I feel like everyone has their own version that’s an absolute favorite. This recipe from my mother-in-law is our family’s favorite. My husband requests it often throughout the year and it’s a must-have during summer get togethers.
Growing up, if my mom had a large group of people over, one of her go-to meals was always pizzas with a big salad. It wasn’t just any old salad, though – she would load it up with pepperoni, salami, cheese, olives, artichoke hearts, and, without fail, Good Seasons Italian dressing… signature cruet and all. Gosh, I loved that stuff!
This pasta salad always reminds me of my mom’s pizza side dish salad, and we gobble it up every time it’s made.
Ingredients You’ll Need
Here’s what we’re throwing into the pasta salad – these are the basics that show up every time it’s made.
- Pasta: I love using farfalle or medium shells that have been cooked, drained, and rinsed under cold water.
- Pepperoni: Use a stick of pepperoni and slice into thick pieces.
- Mozzarella Cheese: Adds soft cheesy bites to the pasta salad; either buy it cubed or buy a block and cube it yourself.
- Onion: Finely diced.
- Celery: Chopped into small pieces.
- Black Olives: Drained and rinsed.
- Parsley: Adds tons of fresh flavor!
There are SO MANY potential ingredient combinations that you could run with, but here are some of my favorite ways to switch up this pasta salad.
Best Pasta for Pasta Salad
I love using medium pasta shells but the beautiful thing about pasta salad is that many short pastas work wonderfully in the dish. Some other kinds of pasta to try include:
I would stay away from long noodles since they will make serving the pasta salad a bit difficult.
To rinse or not to rinse?
Typically when you make pasta dishes you should not rinse the pasta. The only exception is for cold pasta salads like this one. It keeps the pasta loose in the salad and also stops the cooking process so you truly have an al dente pasta in the salad.
Switch up the veggies in this pasta salad to suit the needs of your family. Add what they like and remove what they don’t. Great vegetables to include in this pasta salad include:
- Grape tomatoes- halved
- Bell pepper
- Red onion
- Pepperoncini peppers
- Artichoke hearts
Meats and Cheeses
Other swaps to make in this pasta salad include trying different meats and cheeses.
- Meats: Pepperoni is the standard, but switching it up with half pepperoni and half salami is awesome. You can also try cooked chicken or shrimp for a different flavor.
- Vegetarian: Omit the pepperoni and add in additional vegetables for a vegetarian option to this epic pasta salad.
- Cheese: Mozzarella is de facto, but again I like to throw in a combination of mozzarella and provolone cheeses. You can also use feta, cheddar, Colby, pepper jack, whatever your favorites are!
I adore this recipe for its overall simplicity in preparation and the ease in which it comes together. You don’t need to turn on the oven; just grab a cutting board and your best knife, as well as a jar to shake up the dressing.
- Boil the Pasta – Then, drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking the cool it off.
- Stir Everything! – Toss all of the salad ingredients (pasta, pepperoni, cheese, chopped onion and celery, and parsley) in a large bowl to combine.
- Whip up the dressing!
Homemade Italian Dressing
To make this homemade Italian Dressing for the pasta salad you’ll need:
- Olive Oil: Pulls the flavor from the spices and coats the pasta salad beautifully!
- Red Wine Vinegar- For a little bite.
- Lemon Juice- Adds a bright and tart flavor to the dressing.
- Dijon Mustard- For a little depth.
- Salt + Pepper- Flavor!
- Oregano + Basil– Delicious herby Italian taste.
- Make the Dressing – Place all of the dressing ingredients in a glass jar and shake vigorously to combine
- Mix It All Together – Drizzle the dressing over the salad to moisten it well (you may have some dressing leftover), then toss to combine. This salad is best if left to sit in the refrigerator for a time before serving, so it’s great to make a few hours or even a day in advance.
Storing + Shelf Life
This pasta salad is best within the first 24 hours of making it and I would not prep the salad more than a day in advance. That said, you can easily store this Italian pasta salad in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
Tips for Preparing Ahead of Time
This pasta salad is a fantastic candidate for making ahead of time. It tastes even better when left to marinate in the refrigerator for a few hours or up to a day before serving.
A quick note that the pasta will soak up the dressing as it sits in the refrigerator, so give it a quick taste before serving and add a little more dressing, as needed.
Another option is prepping the individual ingredients and keep them in the refrigerator, then toss it together the morning you plan to serve it. To do this:
- Chop all vegetables and store them in an airtight container.
- Cook the pasta according to package directions and store it in the refrigerator separate from the vegetables.
- Dice the mozzarella and store it in an airtight container.
- Chop the pepperoni and store it in an airtight container.
- Mix up the dressing and keep it in an airtight container. You can also use a store-bought dressing instead of homemade to save on time. My mom used to put Good Seasons (from the packet!) on her antipasto salads and everyone loved it!
This loaded pasta salad pairs perfectly with summer BBQs and potluck dinners. If you are looking for some dishes to serve as a main dish for this pasta salad you can try:
Summer Side Salads to Try Next
This Italian Pasta Salad is sure to be the star of your summer potlucks and bbqs. Bursting with fresh flavor and packed with pasta, veggies, and more you will be making this easy pasta salad all summer long!
If you make this recipe and love it, remember to stop back and give it a 5-star rating – it helps others find the recipe! ❤️️
Pasta Salad with Homemade Italian Dressing
For the Salad:
- 1 pound (453.59 g) farfalle or medium shells pasta, cooked, drained and rinsed under cold water
- 8 ounces (226.8 g) pepperoni, cubed
- 8 ounces (226.8 g) mozzarella cheese, cubed
- 1 small onion, minced
- 1 stalk celery, minced
- 6 ounce (170.1 g) canned black olives, drained and rinsed
- 3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
For the Dressing:
- ¼ cup (54 ml) olive oil
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1½ teaspoons (1.5 teaspoons) lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon (0.5 teaspoon) Dijon mustard
- ½ teaspoon (0.5 teaspoon) salt
- ½ teaspoon (0.5 teaspoon) black pepper
- ⅛ teaspoon (0.13 teaspoon) dried oregano
- ⅛ teaspoon (0.13 teaspoon) dried basil
- Combine the pasta, pepperoni, cheese, onion, celery, olives and parsley in a large bowl.
- Place all of the dressing ingredients in a jar, seal, and shake vigorously to combine. (Alternately, you can whisk together everything but the olive oil, and then gradually drizzle in the olive oil while whisking continuously.)
- Pour over enough of the dressing to moisten the salad (you may have a tiny bit leftover) and toss gently to combine. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve (it’s even better after it sits in the fridge, so if you have time to make it ahead, do so!). Leftovers should be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Splash with additional dressing, olive oil or vinegar if the pasta has soaked up too much moisture on day 2 or beyond.
- The ingredients for this salad are highly customizable – add/substitute salami or other Italian meats, add/substitute provolone cheese, omit the black olives if desired (or add green ones!), throw in some artichoke hearts, or anything else you like.
- You can easily make this a vegetarian pasta salad by omitting the pepperoni. Feel free to up the other ingredients or add more veggies if you’d like!
- My favorite pasta shapes for this salad are medium shells and farfalle, but use your favorite short pasta!
- I highly recommend the homemade dressing, but you can totally use store-bought if you’d like. My mom used to put Good Seasons (from the packet!) on her antipasto salads and everyone loved it!
- This pasta salad works supremely well made ahead, and can be assembled from a few hours up to a day in advance. Check the salad before serving, as you may need to add a bit more dressing if it’s been in the refrigerator overnight.
Did you make this recipe?
Leave a review below, then snap a picture and tag @thebrowneyedbaker on Instagram so I can see it!
[photos by Ari of Well Seasoned]
Here for the recipe to make it again. It will be my third time making this delicious pasta salad. I’m ftom Malta (very close to Italy) and we will be taking it to the beach. Thank you Michelle for sharing your kitchen secrets with us <3
I added red pepper for color and used kalamatas – very yummy and good enough to take to a gathering.
Love these additions! So thrilled that you enjoyed it.
Do I use the harder part skim mozzarella or the softer “fresh” type of mozzarella? The photos look like the cheese is the fresh variety but I’m not sure. Thank you. Definitely going to have this in my meal rotation.
Hi Elizabeth, You can use either one!
I saw this recipe early this morning just before heading to the grocery. I bought the ingredients and already made it. Just tasted it after chilling a couple hours and it is delicious! I made exactly as the recipe calls for except used turkey pepperoni instead of regular. I also used the Good Seasons packet instead of the homemade dressing. This is a keeper!
Hi Lori, Oh my gosh, I’m so thrilled that you made this and loved it!! Thank you for sharing!
I used to make one just like this years ago using Ditalini. Everyone always raved about it.
Hello! What brand of mozzarella do you buy, What type specifically?
There’s SO MANY!
I actually just buy the store brand, whether it be my supermarket or Whole Foods!
I haven’t made pasta salad in ages. This looks delicious.
pasta is one of my favorite and this italian pasta salad looks is fabulous with many colorful…i will definitely need to make this salad, and it perfect for summer as well…Thanks for sharing….!
Hi Michelle, I made a variation of this salad a few years ago to bring to a friends’ daughter’s graduation party. I actually used linguine, broken in half. I also used a Good Seasons dressing, although for my own personal taste I used half the amount of vinegar. The vinegar I used was a red wine, infused with garlic. In addition to the halved cherry tomatoes, I also used steamed chopped broccoli. Of course I added parmesan/Romano cheese, extra garlic seasoning, and extra Italian seasoning. Of course there were black olives! The salad was a big hit at the graduation party, and I was flattered to get a phone call from my friend’s husband soon afterward, asking for the recipe. He often catered dinners at our Irish-American social club, and everyone respected his cooking skills. So it did thrill me that he asked how to make it. I honestly think that most of the interest is because of the linguine pasta that I used. Thanks for sharing your family’s version!
My family loves pasta salad. I typically use tri-color rotini pasta, grape tomatoes, cubed Colby or Colby Jack cheese, bell pepper, pepperoni, black olives, Wishbone Italian dressing and several shakes of McCormick’s Salad Supreme seasoning. I agree that it tastes better the next day, after the flavors mix together. I can’t wait to try your version.
I ran short on the red wine vinegar, which I NEVER do, but used the brine from a jar of jumbo green olives to fill in. It was very good! Also like the halved cherry tomatoes for some color. Delicious. So easy to customize. Needed a bit more dressing, as you warned, when serving. Also good room temperature if at a picnic or pot luck. Happy summer.
Love the addition of halved cherry tomatoes for that pop of color! So glad you enjoyed!
Hi Michelle, Following you for a very long time and I must say, amazing articles every single time! Thanks & keep the good work up…
I’m a long time follower and I love your blog and recipes! This salad sounds and looks amazing! I definitely need to make this!
Enjoy, Patty! :)
I also love pasta salad! I live in south Florida, and we’re always looking for something cold to eat and drink in the summer. It seems like summer has been here for about a month! My husband makes a vinaigrette dressing with olive oil and raspberry vinegar. I love that combo. We put olives, celery,
Peppers, turkey, feta cheese. I have to put reggiano parm on the top, no matter what cheese is in the salad. We had pasta salad last week. Next time I’ll make it using your mom’s dressing.
That raspberry vinaigrette sounds amazing with the combo of turkey and feta!!
wow, it looks so delicious!!! Pasta is always one of my favorite dishes. I often cook pasta with tomato paste. But your recipe s great too . I should try that at this weekend. Thks for your sharing!
This looks amazing! I’m a huge fan of pasta salads, might have to bring this to my next cookout. Yum!
This was a hit at our July 4th BBQ! I added artichoke hearts, halved heirloom cherry tomatoes and chunks of yellow bell pepper. Fortunately I have leftovers for lunch!
I really like bowtie or rotini for our pasta salad. This is the type of recipe we love…no heavy mayo dishes for us. This makes me want to whip up a big bowl now.
Pasta salad is always a hit!! Your recipe is very similar to my version. To add a little extra ZIP…. I sprinkle either parmesan or romano cheese AND a very light sprinkle of crushed red pepper!! Thank you!!
Looks delicious! I haven’t made a pasta salad before.
I like to use Barilla brand mini farfalle for pasta salad. I add chopped string cheese, halved cherry or grape tomatoes, thinly sliced red or sweet onion, sliced almonds, and sometimes diced red pepper. The dressing is Kraft Tuscan Italian Dressing or Papa Vino’s Sweet Basil Vinaigrette House Dressing.
My favorite pasta salad is made with spiral pasta, cherry tomatoes, celery, onion, cucumber, and roasted chicken and black olives. I usually roast bone-in chicken breasts and use that for this salad. The dressing is Italian dressing, spicy brown mustard, mayo, lemon juice and salt and pepper. Love it! Sometimes we eat this for a summertime supper. Perfect!
This looks so perfect for a picnic! So summery! I
Pasta salad is so delish this time of year! Those big black olives especially look to die for. Would love to try a veggie version! Yum all around.
Our favorite pasta salad is made with bow-tie pasta, (although I have made it with other types, usually whatever we have in the pantry but bow-tie is my fav), a diced green pepper, raw broccoli florets, chopped tomatoes, a little bit of basil, Parmesan and a little Italian cheese blend with Zesty Italian salad dressing. Just made some last night with Steak sandwiches. Our air conditioning went out on Sunday and wasn’t fixed until late yesterday afternoon, so I fixed the really thin sliced steak in the crock pot with onions and green pepper seasoned with seasoned salt, garlic powder and steak seasoning with worcestershire sauce and beef broth. It was really good and I didn’t have to heat up the kitchen with the oven. Love your recipes and love the pics of your little boy and the pups.
I’m loving the bowtie pasta in this! I usually use the trip-color rotini. I’m with your hubby on the celery. But I do like to add slightly steamed broccoli and raw cauliflower bits to my pasta salad. Black olives are a must as are the pepperoni, salami, and mozzarella. I may also add a sprinkle of romano as well. And I do like the Good Seasons Italian dressing too. I could eat the whole pasta salad myself . . . so so good!
It looks really tasty