Pasta salad is a refreshing, easy-to-make dish that is great to serve at any BBQ or family gathering. Whether you are serving hot dogs and hamburgers or brisket, this easy pasta salad makes a great side.
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I grew up on macaroni salad. There was always a large bowl of it on the table at family gatherings alongside potato salad and coleslaw. What was served at our family gatherings was made with macaroni, mayo, ham and pickles. This recipe is one that I created because I wanted a different twist on the pasta salad I grew up with, adding vegetables to make it a little healthier and for colour.
Easy to Make
Don’t let the number of ingredients scare you away. There are 18 ingredients but many are probably already in your cupboard or fridge. The longest part of making this recipe is cooking the pasta. I dice and chop the vegetables and basil while waiting for the water to boil and the pasta to cook. To save time I also buy the cheese already shredded.
The pasta I use is rotini, but fusilli or another similar-shaped pasta can also be used. Sometimes I use coloured pasta and sometimes I use plain pasta. It really depends on what is in my cupboard at the time or what the occasion is. I like to make this pasta salad with colourful pasta when we have a BBQ or family gathering because it adds colour to the table.
All the vegetables I use are fresh. For the peppers, I use red, yellow and orange. Green peppers can also be added if you prefer. I add fresh spinach and fresh basil to add green to the salad.
Rounding out the vegetables are red onion, celery and cherry or grape tomatoes.
Black olives add saltiness to the salad. There are times when I don’t have black olives on hand and use green in its place. I also sometimes used a combination of the two olives in this salad.
The seasoning used in this recipe is dried basil, parsley and Italian seasoning. Even though I add fresh basil, I also like to add dried because we love basil and the flavour goes well with any pasta dish.
When it comes to cheese, there are two different kinds of cheese I use. Depending on the dressing I am using, I either add shredded Parmesan or crumbled Feta.
Make It a Meal
Easy Pasta Salad makes a great start for a meal. Add some chopped cooked chicken to the salad to make lunch. Chopped or diced ham is also good in this salad.
Almost any kind of meat can be chopped and added to this pasta salad to create a lunch or dinner.
How To Serve
The best way to serve this salad is cold. We let it chill overnight or for at least 30 minutes before serving. We keep it on ice by filling a larger bowl with ice chips and setting the bowl of salad inside it.
This salad makes a great side dish for a BBQ or picnic. Whether you’re serving BBQ chicken or fried chicken, this pasta salad makes a perfect accompaniment.
There are also two ways to make this salad. The basic recipe is the same, it’s the dressing and cheese that changes. The dressing for the pasta salad is bottled. Either Italian dressing or Greek dressing. The recipe card below is for the Italian dressing version, but Greek dressing is a great alternative.
When using Italian dressing, I add Parmesan to the salad.
Feta cheese is added with the Greek dressing. I also add a combination of black and green olives when using Greek dressing.
Tips for Making Easy Pasta Salad
While the water is heating up to cook the pasta, this is when I like to chop the vegetables. Then while the pasta is cooling to room temperature, I gather and measure out the remaining ingredients.
To help the pasta cool faster, I use a large plastic container that has a flat bottom. This allows the pasta to spread out and allows the pasta to cool faster. I also stir the pasta gently every 5-10 minutes to bring the bottom layer up so that it is not remaining hot on the bottom.
When it comes to storing leftover pasta salad, we like to store it in smaller containers that are easy to grab on the go. This salad is perfect for lunches so we like having single servings on hand.
Easy Pasta Salad
- 2 pounds dry rotini pasta
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
- 1½ tsp dried basil
- 1½ tsp dried parsley
- 3 sweet peppers, 1 red, 1 yellow, 1 orange, diced
- 5 celery stalks, diced
- 1 medium sized red onion, diced
- 1 cup fresh spinach, chopped
- 8 large basil leaves, chopped
- 24 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
- 2 cups shredded Parmesan cheese
- ½ cup sliced olives, black or green
- ⅓ cup mayonnaise
- 1 Tbsp garlic paste
- 1 bottle zesty Italian dressing, 475 ml
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- Cook pasta according to package directions.
- Drain pasta and rinse under cold water to remove some of the starch.
- Toss pasta with olive oil, Italian seasoning, dried basil and parsley.
- Set aside to cool to room temperature.
- Once cooled, add vegetables and fresh basil to the pasta and stir.
- In a small bowl, stir together mayonnaise and garlic paste.
- Add cheese, olives, mayonnaise, Italian dressing and pepper to pasta and vegetable and toss to coat
- Refrigerate for 30-45.
- Serve cold