This quick and flavorful Italian pasta salad is filled with pepperoni, fresh mozzarella, bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives and basil is perfect for potlucks and parties!
What’s a potluck or barbecue without a pasta salad? You almost can’t have one without the other. Pasta salads are great because they’re easy, can be made ahead of time, and feed a crowd. But not all pasta salads are created equal, however. I’ve had my fair share of bland soggy noddles and vegetables and it’s always so disappointing when a pasta salad doesn’t live up to it’s eye appeal.
Thankfully, this Italian pasta salad is anything but disappointing! There’s so much going on here— mini pepperoni, veggies like tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, and both fresh mozzarella and grated Parmesan. Toss it all in a crazy simple homemade Italian dressing, add some chopped basil, and you have a pasta salad that is loaded up with flavor and texture. Put it out on the buffet table and watch it disappear!
What’s in this Italian pasta salad
- Rotini pasta
- Mini pepperoni rounds
- Red bell pepper
- Cherry tomatoes
- Red onion
- Black olives
- Mini mozzarella balls
- Grated parmesan cheese
- Fresh basil
- Homemade Italian dressing
You can absolutely change up some of this list to fit what you like or what you have on hand. Use salami instead of the pepperoni, swap the black olives for green olives, or add pepperoncini peppers or artichoke hearts.
How to make an easy Italian dressing
I had planned to use bottled Italian dressing in this pasta salad to keep things simple, but I couldn’t find a single bottle at the grocery store that I felt good about. Too many additives and nothing that looked remotely fresh. So right there in the store aisle I did a quick google search for a homemade dressing and was surprised to learn I already had all the ingredients at home, and all I had to do was add them to a jar and shake. Done!
Here’s what you’ll need to grab from the pantry:
- Olive oil
- Red or white wine vinegar
- Lemon juice
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
- Italian seasoning
- Dried basil
- Crushed red pepper flakes
- Salt and pepper
Pasta Salad Tips
- Short pastas are best for pasta salads. I like rotini, penne and fusilli.
- The boiling water for the pasta should be heavily salted to give the pasta a boost of flavor right from the beginning.
- Cook the pasta just past the point of “al dente”. This will keep the pasta soft as it cools.
- Do not rinse the pasta under cold water. You’ll wash away all the flavor and starch. Instead add some of the dressing (see the next tip) and spread it out on a sheet pan to cool.
- Add some of the dressing to the pasta right away, no need to wait for it to cool. The warm pasta will absorb the dressing and have more flavor. The rest of the dressing can be added before serving.
- This pasta salad is best a 4-24 hours after assembling. It needs a little time for all of the flavors to meld, but too much time will make some of the vegetables mushy.
- Don’t serve the pasta salad straight from the fridge. Let it come to room temperature for about 30 minutes first.
- Fresh herbs like basil should be added right before serving.
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Italian Pasta Salad
- 12 oz dried rotini pasta
- 6 oz mini pepperoni
- 1 small red bell pepper, chopped
- 1/2 small red onion, chopped
- 4 oz can sliced olives, drained
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 cucumber, sliced
- 8 oz mini mozzerella balls, halved
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 cup Italian-style dressing, below
- 1/4 cup basil leaves, chopped
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup red or white wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- In a large pot filled with salted boiling water, cook pasta until just past "al dente".
- Meanwhile, prepare the Italian dressing. Add all ingredients to a jar with a lid and secure. Shake until combined. Re-shake as needed before using.
- When pasta is done, drain well but do not rinse.
- Toss 1/3 cup of the Italian dressing with the pasta and spread out on a sheet pan to cool.
- To assemble pasta salad, combine pasta with the rest of the ingredients and remaining Italian dressing.
- Chill in the fridge for 4 hours before serving, and up to 1 day.
- Let pasta salad sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. Leftovers should be stored in the fridge and consumed within several days.