Zesty Italian Pasta Salad (Potluck Salad)
Bright, bold, and flavorful Italian pasta salad is perfect for throwing together for large parties! Loaded with fresh veggies, tender pasta, and bright homemade Italian vinaigrette!
The perfect potluck salad!
Pasta salads are my kryptonite in the summertime. A one-bowl wonder with tender pasta, bright and crisp veggies, and a zingy homemade Italian vinaigrette that gets into the little grooves of the pasta and leaves a flavor explosion in your mouth! And a big bowl of this stuff will easily feed a dozen people. But it’s such an easy recipe that you can easily double, triple, or even quadruple without having to do any hard math!
I don’t know about you, but when the weather starts turning warm, I want an ice-cold, zesty, and bright Italian pasta salad on all the holidays between Memorial Day and Labor Day. It also just happens to be the best way to clean the fridge and serve alongside grilled chicken or a light and easy weeknight dinner. And the pasta salad will hang out in the refrigerator easily for a few days, so you can make a box and take it to lunch during the week too!
Ingredients to make a homemade potluck Italian pasta salad:
- Pasta: You can use any medium-cut pasta you like. I like to use tri-colored pasta to add a bit more color to the salad. Remember, we eat with our eyes first!
- Garbanzo beans: my antipasto pasta salad is actually completely vegetarian-friendly! There’s a note about adding deli meats at the bottom (if you’re interested), but to bulk up this salad, I used a can of rinsed and drained garbanzo beans.
- Fresh veggies: fresh cherry tomatoes, diced green bell peppers, and red onions give this salad tons of color and freshness.
- Black olives: add a nice briny flavor. You can swap the black olives for green olives if you like those better, but black olives add the perfect flavor.
- Pepperoncini peppers: another hit of briny goodness! I’m a sucker for pepperoncini chicken, and this little ingredient adds a ton of flavor to this pasta salad!
- Fresh cheese: fresh pearl mozzarella balls add creaminess to the salad. Feel free to use a large mozzarella ball cut into small cubes if you can’t find the tiny mozzarella balls! Grated parmesan adds nuttiness and brings salt to the salad. I use freshly grated parmesan, but you can certainly buy shredded parmesan if you’d like it to be more visually noticed in the salad.
- Fresh parsley: brings freshness and a pop of bright green to the salad. You can add up to double the parsley if you’d like to bring more color and flavor.
- Italian dressing: I use my homemade dressing when I make this salad. But, if you’re in a pinch and don’t want to spend the extra 5 minutes making the dressing, you can use a cup (or more) of this dressing instead.
How do you make Italian pasta salad at home?
- Do the prep. Start by bringing a large pot of water to boil. When the water is boiling, salt it generously. We’re going to rinse the pasta under cold running water, so we must use a lot of salt to boil the pasta so that some of it still sticks around once we rinse it. While the pasta is boiling, prep the fresh veggies and slice/dice them for the salad. Rinse the pasta under cold running water to cool it down and rinse out all the extra starch. Let it drain completely before tossing with the other ingredients.
- Make the salad. Add the pasta to a bowl along with all the other ingredients and toss to combine. Add the dressing and continue to toss the salad until all the ingredients are evenly coated in the dressing. Taste and adjust with salt as desired. Refrigerate the salad for at least 2 hours before serving so that all the flavors have a chance to mesh.
FAQs and Tips to make the best Italian Pasta Salad:
- Do I have to use tri-color pasta? No, you can use the basic one-colored pasta as well! You can even use whole wheat pasta if you’d like. I like tri-color because it brings more color to the salad, but it’s totally optional!
- Cook your pasta to al dente. It’s important to cook the pasta to where it still has a bite. The acid in the dressing will continue to break down the starches in the pasta, causing it to get mushy as it sits.
- Don’t oil or butter your pasta. Make sure to rinse the pasta under cool running water to get rid of excess starch and to keep it from sticking. Try to avoid adding any oil or butter to the pasta. This will create a slick layer on the pasta, keeping it from soaking up the Italian dressing, and the pasta won’t have that nice bold flavor!
- Can I add salami to this salad? You can! I wanted this salad to be vegetarian-friendly, so I used garbanzo beans instead, but you can certainly add ½ pound of salami in as well!
- Allow the salad flavors to ‘marinate’ Allowing the pasta salad to sit for a couple of hours will help mesh everything and bring together all the flavors.
Other salad recipes to try:
- Mediterranean Pasta Salad
- Addicting Macaroni Salad
- Lemon Basil Arugula Pasta Salad
- Classic Summer Coleslaw
- Sour Cream Chive Potato Salad
- Marinated Feta Greek Salad
- Marinated Mozzarella Tomato Salad
- Sesame Chicken Pasta Salad
- 16 ounces dry tri-colored rotini pasta
- 1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained + rinsed
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
- 1 cup sliced black olives
- 1 cup diced green bell peppers
- ½ cup sliced red onions
- ½ cup Pepperoncini peppers, thinly sliced
- 8-ounces pearl mozzarella (or small mozzarella cheese balls cut in half)
- ¼ cup EACH: grated parmesan cheese AND chopped parsley
- 1 batch prepared Italian dressing
- PREP: Boil the pasta until al dente according to package directions in a large pot of extra salty water. Rinse the pasta under cold running water until cooled. Drain well.
- SALAD: In a large bowl, toss together all the ingredients for the salad. Drizzle with the Italian dressing and toss until all the ingredients are coated. Taste and adjust with salt as needed. Allow the pasta salad to refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until ready to serve.
- Feel free to add up to 8 ounces of salami to this if you'd like, I kept it vegetarian so that everyone can enjoy this!
- Store leftover pasta salad in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
- You may want to make an extra batch of dressing to have on hand if you have leftover salad. Refreshing the salad before serving makes it taste just as good as new!