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Bright and flavorful, this pasta salad is loaded with fresh veggies, tender pasta, and zesty Italian dressing. Full of fresh ingredients, pasta salad is a classic crowd-pleaser for picnics and barbecues.
Loaded with bold, fresh flavors, easy pasta salad is brimming with perfectly cooked pasta, crisp vegetables, and delicious seasonings. Every potluck needs a pasta salad, and this simple pasta salad is one you’ll want to make again and again.
This picnic-perfect pasta salad can easily be made the day before and will make the salad even more flavorful. It doesn’t take long to make, just 15 minutes of prep time to toss together.
Pasta salad is the perfect side dish to serve alongside grilled chicken, burgers, or pork chops. Round it out and make a complete meal with a green salad and a cold glass of iced tea.
Pasta Salad Ingredients
- Pasta – rotini
- Cheese – Pepper jack cheese
- Tomatoes – small cherry tomatoes
- Cucumber – English cucumber
- Bell pepper – red or yellow bell pepper
- Bell pepper – orange bell pepper
- Onion – sweet onion
- Salami – sliced salami or pepperoni, optional
- Dressing – zesty Italian dressing
- Parsley – chopped parsley, optional garnish
- Cheese – Parmesan or Romano cheese, for optional spice blend
- Sesame seeds – for optional spice blend
- Paprika – for optional spice blend
- Garlic powder – for optional spice blend
- Poppy seeds – for optional spice blend
- Celery seeds – for optional spice blend
- Cayenne pepper – for optional spice blend
Any short pasta shape can be substituted for the rotini, such as small shells, small elbow macaroni, or small penne pasta. If you want to add a pop of color, you can use a tri-color rotini.
Both mozzarella cheese and cheddar cheese make for great replacements for the pepper jack cheese if you prefer a different variety of cheese. You could also toss in some additional feta or parmesan cheese for extra flavor.
Any type of cucumber will work in this recipe. In addition, the sweet onion can easily be substituted with red onion. You could also use a green onion for a milder onion flavor.
How to Make Pasta Salad
FIRST STEP: Bring water to a rolling boil. When it comes to a boil, add the tablespoon of salt and the rotini.
SECOND STEP: Cook the rotini according to the al dente directions on the box. (If no directions: After the pasta has been cooked for 6 – 7 minutes, taste a piece of pasta and see if it’s crunchy. If crunchy, keep boiling at 30-second intervals until it is firm but not crunchy).
THIRD STEP: Drain. Rinse pasta with cold water to stop the cooking process.
FOURTH STEP: In the meantime, cut the vegetables and cheese into bite-size pieces and put them in a salad bowl.
FIFTH STEP: Add the pepperoni, optional.
SIXTH STEP: When the pasta is done and has been cooled, add it to the bowl.
SEVENTH STEP: Make the spice blend if using. Shake or pour the spice blend over the contents of the bowl.
EIGHTH STEP: Pour the zesty Italian dressing on top and stir everything together.
NINTH STEP: Chill in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.
Can I add bacon to the pasta salad?
In addition to the salami, both pepperoni and bacon make for a delicious addition of flavor.
What other vegetables can I add?
A variety of veggies add crunch and color to the pasta salad. Try adding zucchini, artichokes, thinly sliced green onions, green beans, or fresh spinach.
Can I make the pasta salad ahead of time?
This great pasta salad is best when it’s made the day before. If you decide to prepare the salad a day ahead of time, you can reserve ½ the zesty Italian dressing until you are ready to serve.
How to Store Pasta Salad
IN THE FRIDGE: Store leftover pasta salad in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days.
IN THE FREEZER: We don’t recommend freezing this pasta salad recipe.
- 6 quarts water
- 1 (8 ounce) box rotini (about 2 ½ cups pasta)
- 1½ cups Pepper jack cheese cubed in to 1-inch pieces
- 1 cup firm, small cherry tomatoes (peeled or unpeeled), cut in half
- 1 cup English cucumber chopped into 1-inch slices
- 1 red or yellow bell pepper chopped
- 1 orange bell pepper chopped
- ¼ cup sweet onion chopped
- 4 ounces sliced salami or pepperoni optional
- 1 (8 ounce) bottle zesty Italian dressing (~1 cup)
- 2 tsp blend or recipe below
- Salt o Pepper to taste
- chopped parsley optional garnish
Spice Blend, optional:
- 3 tbsp Parmesan or Romano Cheese
- 1½ tsps salt
- 2 tsps sesame seeds
- 1½ teaspoons paprika
- ¾ tsp poppy seeds
- ¼ tsp celery seeds
- ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Bring water to a rolling boil. When it comes to a boil, add the tablespoon of salt and the rotini.
- Cook the rotini according to the al dente directions on the box. (If no directions: After the pasta has been cooked for 6 – 7 minutes, taste a piece of pasta and see if it's crunchy. If crunchy, keep boiling at 30-second intervals until it is firm but not crunchy).
- In the meantime, cut the vegetables and cheese into bite-size pieces and put them in a salad bowl.
- Add the pepperoni, optional.
- When the pasta is done and has been cooled, add it to the bowl.
- Make the spice blend if using. Shake or pour the spice blend over the contents of the bowl.
- Pour the zesty Italian dressing on top and stir everything together.