This Italian pasta salad recipe hails from my mother-in-law’s kitchen and is legendary in our family. Served cold, loaded with cheese, pepperoni, and whatever extras you’d like, it’s tossed with a homemade Italian dressing and is the perfect side dish for any occasion. From picnics and BBQs to Sunday dinners and potlucks, people will be requesting this pasta salad over and over again.
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 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.
What Makes This Pasta Salad Totally Epic
Our entire family goes nuts for this pasta salad! My husband requests it on a nearly weekly basis during the summer, and it was definitely made multiple times on vacation a few years ago. Everyone absolutely devours it.
I love that it’s totally customizable based on your personal preferences. My mother-in-law typically includes some chopped onion and celery, cubed mozzarella and pepperoni, and black olives, then tosses it in a homemade Italian dressing.
There are SO MANY potential ingredient combinations that you could run with, and I’ll share some of my ideas in the next section!
Italian Pasta Salad Recipe Ingredients
Here’s what we’re throwing into the pasta salad – these are the basics that show up every time it’s made, and I’m including some notes on what you can add or substitute if you need some ideas!
Pasta – Of course! You can really use any type of short pasta you prefer, but our favorites are medium shells and farfalle.
Meat – Pepperoni is the standard, but switching it up with half pepperoni and half salami is awesome.
Cheese – Mozzarella is de facto, but again I like to throw in a combination of mozzarella and provolone cheeses.
Add-Ins – Chopped onion and celery are pretty typical, but my husband hates celery with the fire of a thousand suns, so I leave it out when I make it. Everyone loves olives (except for me), so those always go in. You can also add artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes, garbanzo beans, whatever you’d like!
Parsley – Because… FRESH!
Homemade Dressing – It takes only a few minutes to whip up this dressing, but it makes such a HUGE difference in the flavor of the salad. If you need a shortcut here, my mom always dressed her antipasto salads in Good Seasons dressing (as in, she bought the dry packet and then followed the directions to make it). I still crave that antipasto salad and the dressing was delish!
How to Make Pasta Salad with Homemade Italian Dressing
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.
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 left over), 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.
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.
So, there you have it! It’s easy and a great dish to keep in the fridge during the summer for quick lunches or an afternoon snack.
What are your favorite pasta salad add-ins? Share in the comments below!
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.