With one simple method, you can make the best easy pasta salad ever using your family’s favorite ingredients and dressing. This is infinitely flexible, it stores well so you can make it ahead, and it’s great cold or at room temperature.
Easy Pasta Salad
Whenever the weather is remotely warm, we make a LOT of pasta salad. I love it for picnics and potlucks because it’s so easy to assemble and make ahead of time. And this method is my go-to for always nailing the flavor, moisture, and texture elements of an ideal pasta salad.
The beauty of this method is you can swap ingredients and dressings in an out to make it your own. You can make it more or less complicated as you like. And it’s so easy to serve to the kids since they can see what’s in the mix and eat whichever parts they prefer.
So let’s say goodbye to bland pasta salads and enjoy knowing that seriously delicious options are just about 20 minutes away. (This post has more easy Summer Meals, too.)
Contents hide 1 Easy Pasta Salad 2 Your toddler won’t eat? Help is here! 3 Ingredients You Need 4 Step-by-Step Instructions 5 Pasta Salad Variations 6 How to Store 7 Best Tips for Success 8 Related Recipes 9 Best Easy Pasta Salad Recipe 9.1 Pasta Salad 9.2 Italian Dressing
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Ingredients You Need
Here’s a look at the ingredients you’ll need to have on hand to make this pasta salad recipe. See the Notes at the end of the recipe at the bottom of the post for easy options to vary the main idea.
- Farfalle pasta (or rotini): I prefer to use a smaller shape like farfalle or rotini in my pasta salad. Then, the pasta winds up being about the same size as the rest of the ingredients, which makes it be really easy to eat.
- Cherry tomatoes: Cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, or small heirloom tomatoes can be diced and added to a pasta salad for freshness and some acidity. When sharing this with little kids, I slice cherry tomatoes vertically to ensure they are a low risk for choking. You can also use full size tomatoes and diced them up.
- English cucumber: English cucumbers typically have fewer seeds than regular cucumbers and often also have thinner skin. Both of those elements make them a little more pleasant to eat. We slice them into half moons for easy eating in the mix.
- Mozzarella: You can use diced fresh mozzarella or tiny balls if you see them at your store.
- Red onion (optional): Adding some very thinly sliced red onion adds flavor that the adults may enjoy and are easy enough to eat around for the kids if needed.
- Italian Dressing: We whisk together a simple dressing with olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, dried oregano, honey, salt, garlic, and pepper.
Below is an overview of how to make this pasta recipe so you know what to expect. Scroll down to the end of the post for the full amounts and timing.
- Prepare the pasta according to the directions on the box, making sure not to overcook. Drain. Let the pasta cool.
- Add the ingredients for the dressing to a pint-size mason jar and shake to combine, or add to a small bowl and whisk with a fork.
- Add all of the ingredients to a large bowl or storage container, mix gently to combine.
- Serve cold or at room temperature.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you make pasta salad two days ahead?
Yes, prepare as directed and store in an airtight container in the fridge.
How do you make pasta salad less bland?
Be sure to salt the water when cooking your pasta so that it has flavor and to use an ample amount of dressing. The pasta will absorb a lot of it, so the volume may be more than you think you need. See the recipe below for a great ration.
How can I fresh up leftover pasta salad?
Add more dressing, minced fresh herbs like basil or parsley, or add some shredded Romaine lettuce to add crunch.
Pasta Salad Variations
You can easily change up this flavor according to what your family prefers, the ingredients you have on hand, or a preference.
- Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad: Add two cups cooked chicken (such as my Pan-Seared Chicken Tenders or rotisserie chicken) and use Caesar Dressing. Add croutons if desired.
- Pesto Pasta Salad: Trade in pesto for the Italian dressing for a more herb-forward flavor.
- Quick Italian Pasta Salad: Use bottled Italian dressing that you like in place of making your own dressing. Add sliced black olives and salami.
- Southwest Pasta Salad: Use diced cheddar cheese in place of the mozzarella, 1 can drained and rinsed black beans, and use a Mexican-style dressing such as a lime vinaigrette.
How to Store
Store pasta salad in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Stir to serve cold or at room temperature. To serve at room temperature, let sit out of the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.
If you plan to make this more than a day ahead, I would wait to add the tomatoes as they can soften a lot as the salad sits in the fridge.
(Make sure to follow food safety guidelines if taking this to a picnic and pack it in a container on ice or ice packs so that the cheese stays at a safe temperature.)
Best Tips for Success
- Trade in an equal amount of pesto, bottled Italian Dressing, or bottled Caesar dressing to change the flavor.
- Add cooked, diced chicken, drained and rinsed white beans or chickpeas, or cooked and cooled shrimp to add more protein.
- Add 1 cup each thinly sliced salami and/or black olives if desired.
- Use gluten-free pasta as needed.
- Omit the cheese to make this dairy-free.