This zesty Italian pasta salad features bold ingredients like olives, capers and artichoke hearts, paired with Italian dressing for the ultimate zesty flavour!
This easy Italian pasta salad is loaded with veggies, pasta and the best homemade Italian vinaigrette. It’s inspired by those pre-made cold pasta salads you’d find in the deli section but much fresher, of course!
It’s quick and easy to prepare and perfect for making ahead of time because it tastes even better the next day. It can be served as a delicious side salad or you can add your choice of protein and make it a meal.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- Crunchy, tangy, zesty, pretty and full of flavour!
- Aside from cooking the pasta, no other cooking or blending needed.
- Perfect party salad! Bring this salad along to your next BBQ, picnic, potluck or family gathering.
- The best summer meal or side dish. This cold pasta salad is perfect for a light summer meal or side dish for grilling.
- Quick & easy. Cook the salad, make the dressing and mix it all up for a quick and easy dish that’s ready in under 20 minutes.
- Simple ingredients. You’ll need just a few simple ingredients to make it and there’s no need to be exact, so its super easy to make it work regardless of what you have on hand.
- Customizable. The veggies, beans and greens can all be mixed and matched making this a versatile salad that’s super easy to personalize.
- This recipe is vegan and can be made gluten-free. It’s also high in protein and fiber.
Ingredients & Substitutions
Complete list of ingredients with amounts and full instructions is located in the recipe card below. This section covers ingredient and substitution considerations.
For the Cold Pasta Salad
- Pasta: Fusilli is great for pasta salads because there’s lot of surface area for more zesty dressing in every bite! Other pasta shapes that work well are macaroni, penne, bows and rotini. For a run eye-catching look, try tricolor pasta. I think orzo would be yummy too!
- Cannellini Beans: Canned beans work great but you could also cook your own from scratch. You’ll need 1 19 oz can, which is about 2.5 cups. Drain and rinse them before using. Chickpeas also work well here.
- Olives: The recipe calls for green olives but you can use kalamata or black olives as well. If you don’t like olives, it’s ok to leave them out.
- Artichoke Hearts: These may come in a can or jar. Drain and chop them up before use.
- Capers: You can find these in small jars in the grocery store. If you can’t find them or it’s not an ingredient you often use or have access to, it’s ok to leave them out of the recipe or you can substitute a bit of diced red onion, shallot or pickled pepperoncinis.
- Arugula: Use fresh arugula or substitute another green like spinach. You can also skip it, no big deal!
- Cherry Tomato: Cherry or grape tomatoes work best for this recipe though if you can’t find them, you can use diced Roma, San Marzano or any other variety of fresh tomato.
- Fresh Herbs: The salad features fresh parsley and oregano for plenty of fresh flavour though if you don’t have the fresh herbs to add, the Italian dressing still adds lots of herby goodness.
Other veggies that work in this salad are pepperoncini peppers, broccoli, bell peppers and cucumber, so feel free to mix and match as needed!
For the Italian Pasta Salad Dressing
- Red Wine Vinegar: Red wine vinegar is best but you could substitute white vinegar if needed.
- Dried Herbs: You’ll need dried oregano and basil. You could also use Italian seasoning.
- Dijon Mustard: Any variety of dijon works.
- Garlic: Grate the garlic so it’s almost like a paste.
- Chili Flakes: Add just a little bit of zip to the dressing. If you’re sensitive to spice, you can omit them.
- Lemon: You’ll need a whole fresh lemon to make the juice and zest.
- Olive Oil: I don’t recommend omitting this because it helps to emulsify and balance the zesty dressing.
- Tahini: Adds just a touch of creaminess to the dressing.
How to Make Zesty Pasta Salad
Step 1: Cook the pasta.
To cook the pasta, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil on the stovetop. Once it’s fully boiling, add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions for al dente.
Once the pasta is cooked, drain and rinse well under cold water to stop the cooking and remove starch to prevent the noodles from sticking together. Toss the noodles around a bit so all the pieces get rinsed.
Step 3: Prep the rest of the ingredients.
Add all of the salad ingredients to a large mixing bowl with the cooked pasta and mix everything up.
Step 3: Make the dressing.
The dressing is easy to make in any bowl or container, just whisk or shake until fully combined.
Step 4: Mix the salad.
Finally, add the dressing to your salad and mix it all up. Season with salt and pepper, if needed and enjoy!
Quick Tip: The salad is delicious served right away but even better after chilled in the fridge for 1-2 hours.
Tips for the Best Pasta Salad
- Cook the pasta al dente. Cook the pasta al dente according to the package, rinse well and do not add oil or butter to the cooked pasta.
- Make 1-2 hours ahead for the best flavour. This allows the flavours to really mix together and marinate the pasta.
- Zesty Italian Pasta Salad with Mayo: To make this a creamy Italian salad, you can add up to 1/2 cup of mayo to the dressing.
- Pasta Salad with Cheese: You can use any store-bought feta cheese you enjoy or try this tofu feta. Sometimes people add cubed cheddar or mozzarella cheese to pasta salads or you can spinkle the salad with parmesan cheese.
- Broccoli: Finely chopped and lightly steamed or blanched broccoli works well in this recipe. If you’d like to try it, use 2 cups chopped.
- Chickpeas: Use chickpeas instead of white beans for chickpea pasta salad.
- Pepperoni: This is a vegan recipe so it’s made without pepperoni or salami. If you have a plant-based meat alternative you enjoy, go ahead and throw it in or serve it on top.
Serving Pasta Salad
Pasta salad goes with just about everything! Its a summer classic so perfect served with favorites like corn on the cob, kebabs and other grilling. It would also be yummy served alongside:
You can also serve with your choice of protein mixed in or on the side to make it a balanced meal.
Yes. For cold pasta salads its best to rinse the noodles well under cold water to stop the cooking processor and remove excess starch and prevent sticking.
Sure. To save time and for convinvience, you can use about 1/2 cup of bottled Italian salad dressing.
To make this salad more kid-friendly or suitable for picky eaters, consider adjusting the bolder ingredients like capers, olives and artichokes.
Sliced black olives would be milder than whole green olives and you could use less capers, substitute them for shallot or red onion, or omit them entirely.
In addition, using tri color pasta would make it more fun and inviting!
Making Ahead & Storing
- The pasta salad can be made up to 4 days in advance and stored in the fridge in an airtight container.
- If you’re making it for an event, I’d make it no more than 1 day ahead of time so its still nice and fresh for serving.
- The dressing can be stored in the fridge for up to 1 week.
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For the Cold Pasta Salad
For the Italian Dressing
- Cook the Pasta: Place a large pot of salted water on the stove, cook pasta according to package instructions. Once cooked, drain off all water and rinse and toss under cool water to stop the cooking and to ensure pasta doesn’t stick together.
- Mix Salad: Place all other ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Add your pasta and mix until ingredients are evenly distributed,
- Mix Dressing: In a separate small bowl, add all the ingredients for the dressing and whisk thoroughly. Add dressing to the salad, toss to incorporate.
- Serve: Serve right away or chill in the fridge for 1-2 hours to marinate.
Store pasta salad in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 4 days. The dressing can be made in advance and store for a week or so.
- Serving Size: 1/6th of recipe
- Calories: 508
- Sodium: 606 mg
- Fat: 9 g
- Carbohydrates: 88 g
- Fiber: 10 g
- Protein: 19 g
Keywords: zesty Italian pasta salad