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.
[photos by Ari of Well Seasoned]