This zesty Italian pasta salad is filled with fresh veggies, creamy mozzarella, and tossed in a deliciously tangy homemade Italian dressing. It's light and refreshing and the perfect side dish for a summer BBQ and picnics!
Why I Love This Recipe
This zesty Italian pasta salad recipe is one that makes you feel good while eating it. It's not too heavy yet packed with flavor and protein to keep you full. The lightened up ingredients and zippy lemony dressing are what make this the ultimate summer dish!
Ingredients and Substitutions
- Pasta - You can use any type of pasta in this recipe. I used a chickpea pasta to up the protein and went with the rotini pasta shape. Bow tie or penne are other great pasta shapes for this recipe.
- Roasted red peppers - I used the kind that comes in the jar but you can also make your own or use fresh bell peppers.
- Banana peppers - These really bring out the Italian flavor in the pasta salad. You can also use pepperoncini peppers.
- Artichoke hearts - Make sure to slice these into quarters so they are bite sized.
- Salami - The Italian meat used in the salad. You can also use Italian sausage or pepperoni.
- Mozzarella - The mozzarella pearls are the perfect size to toss into this salad. You can also cut up a fresh mozzarella ball into small pieces. If dairy free, feel free to use a vegan cheese.
- Olive oil - I prefer the robust flavor olive oil to really pull in those Italian flavors. Any type of oil will work like avocado oil.
- Red wine vinegar - Used in the Italian dressing. This is what adds that subtle tang to the zesty dressing. Don't use apple cider vinegar or white vinegar, this needs to be red wine vinegar.
How to Make Zest Italian Pasta Salad
This pasta salad is incredibly easy to make. You will need a pot to cook the pasta, jar for the dressing, large mixing bowl, and some serving spoons to toss.
Step 1 : Cook the pasta. Use the package directions to cook the pasta just shy of al dente. This means the pasta will still be a tad tough. The pasta will soften up once it's tossed in the dressing and we want it to be tough enough to hold its shape.
Step 2 : Prepare the Italian dressing. While the pasta cooks, add all the dressing ingredients to a jar. Place the lid on top and shake vigorously until well mixed. Set aside until you're ready to use.
Step 3 : Add the salad ingredients. Pour the warm pasta into a large bowl and add the roasted red peppers, banana peppers, artichoke hearts, red onion, cherry tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and salami strips. Pour ⅔ of the jar of dressing over top and toss well to distribute everything in the bowl.
Step 4 : Chill the salad. Wrap the bowl with plastic wrap or transfer the pasta salad to an airtight container. Place the pasta salad in the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes. This allows the pasta to cool down and really soak up the dressing flavors.
How to Serve
When ready to serve the summer pasta salad, give it a few tosses to mix everything up again and pour the remaining ⅓ of salad dressing while mixing. The little extra dressing adds some new fresh moisture to the bowl after it's had time to soak up some dressing.
Sprinkle some fresh herbs like green onions or fresh parsley over top to garnish if desired and enjoy!
There are lots of ways to make this pasta salad your own. Here are few ideas:
- Add some red pepper flakes to the dressing for some heat.
- You will notice I didn't add any olives to this recipe which was done on purpose - I hate olives! But if you're an olive person, green olives or black olives would be a great addition.
- Grate some fresh parmesan cheese over top when you're ready to serve to add some extra cheese to the dish.
- Make this a heartier meal by adding some cold sliced rotisserie chicken.
How to Store
Keep this pasta salad in an airtight container in the fridge where it will keep for up to 3 days. If you know you will be storing some pasta for later, I recommend reserving a little salad dressing so you can pour it over top once you're ready to enjoy the pasta salad.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you use gluten free pasta this recipe will be gluten free.
Yes, use a dairy free mozzarella cheese and swap the salami with chickpeas.
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Zesty Italian Pasta Salad
- 8 oz pasta - I used chickpea pasta
- ⅓ cup red onion - diced
- ⅓ cup roasted red peppers
- ⅓ cup banana peppers - sliced into pieces
- ½ cup tomatoes - halved
- 6 oz artichoke hearts - quartered
- 1 cup mozzarella pearls
- 4 oz salami - I used soppressata, cut into strips
- Parsley - to garnish, optional
For the dressing
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- 1 garlic clove - chopped
- 2 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp Italian seasoning
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp pepper
- Cook the pasta according to package directions.
- While the pasta is cooking, prepare the dressing by adding the olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, lemon juice, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper to a jar. Place the lid on top and shake vigorously to mix up all the ingredients. You can also do this in a small bowl and mix with a fork or a whisk.
- In a large bowl, add the cooked pasta, red onion, roasted red peppers, banana peppers, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, mozzarella pearls, and salami. Pour ⅔ of the dressing over top and mix everything together with two serving spoons. You want to gently toss the ingredients so the pasta doesn’t break up.
- Wrap the top of the bowl in plastic wrap or transfer the pasta salad to a separate airtight container and chill it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
- When ready to serve, pour the remaining ⅓ of the dressing over the pasta salad and toss the mixture a few more times to disburse. This will add some fresh moisture to the pasts after it’s had time to soak up the flavors in the fridge. Garnish with chopped parsley, serve while cold, and enjoy!