Make this zesty Italian pasta salad for the perfect side dish to bring to potlucks, barbecues, and cookouts! Made in under 30 minutes, it’s full of fresh vegetables, tangy Italian dressing, and feta cheese. Plus, it couldn’t be easier to customize!
This zesty Italian pasta salad comes in handy for those last-minute pool day invites, cookouts, and tailgating parties. With a few simple ingredients, like pasta and dressing, you can toss in whatever you have on hand!
I love pairing pasta salad with a pulled pork sandwich, roasted chicken, or oven-roasted ribs. Since it keeps well, it’s also great for meal prep!
Why I Love This Recipe
- Easy: No matter what your cooking level is, you can make this delicious pasta salad! It’s ready in minutes and requires little effort in the kitchen.
- Healthy: This recipe is packed with nutritious vegetables, and it’s tossed in a light vinaigrette. It’s both satisfying and health-conscious!
- Customizable: Swap out or add extra vegetables, use gluten-free pasta, or experiment with different cheese varieties. There are so many ways to make this classic pasta salad your own!
Easy Zesty Italian Pasta Salad
This zesty Italian pasta salad is a staple in my house because it’s incredibly simple to make, uses affordable ingredients, and is on the table in 30 minutes or less! This recipe is always a crowd-pleaser with its combination of textures and flavors.
Tri-color rotini provides the perfect canvas for zesty dressing, tangy feta, and a medley of fresh veggies. Its vibrant color and taste will leave your friends and family asking for seconds after their first bite! Serve it as a side dish at your next barbecue, or add protein to it and enjoy it as a standalone meal.
Best Noodles For Pasta Salad
I have always used the multi-colored rotini (spiral-shaped noodles) in my pasta salad, but any hearty pasta will do. Avoid spaghetti or long/large noodles as they will be more difficult to serve and eat.
The best noodles for making pasta salad include these types:
- Multi-colored rotini (spiral shape)
- Farfalle (bowtie shape)
- Tortellini (for a fun flavor addition)
Ingredients For Zesty Italian Pasta Salad
See the full list of ingredients in the recipe card below.
- Rotini: The spiral shape of the rotini perfectly catches all of the dressing! You can also experiment with other short pasta that I’ve listed above.
- Olives: My favorite varieties for pasta salad are Kalamata and black olives, but feel free to use green olives or your favorite type of olives.
- Italian dressing: Store-bought or homemade both work here. For a simple Italian dressing, combine olive oil, white wine vinegar, lemon, honey, and Italian herbs.
- Cherry tomatoes: Impart juicy, zesty, and vibrant flavors to the salad. Grape tomatoes, diced Roma tomatoes, or even sun-dried tomatoes will work as well.
- Banana peppers: Add just a touch of heat and a tangy element. For extra spice, use pickled jalapeños. If you’re sensitive to spice, omit the peppers altogether.
- Green onions: Provide a pop of color and a subtly savory flavor. Feel free to substitute green onions with red onions or shallots if you’d prefer!
- Feta cheese: Crumbled feta adds salty, umami-rich flavors and creamy, crumbly textures in each bite. If you don’t have feta available, try goat cheese or cotija cheese.
- Seasonings: I like to use a simple combination of oregano, salt, and pepper. Other options include basil, thyme, or an Italian mix.
How to Make A Classic Pasta Salad
Step 1: Cook The Pasta
Cook pasta until al dente. You don’t want it to be too mushy for pasta salad. I recommend checking on it about 2-3 minutes before the package states. Once it’s ready, drain it and let it cool.
Step 2: Combine The Salad
To a large mixing bowl, add the cooked and cooled pasta, olives, cherry tomatoes, banana pepper rings, green onions, feta cheese, seasonings, and any other mix-ins you want.
The great thing about this recipe is that you can add or substitute any of the ingredients. I’ve even heard people call this “everything but the kitchen sink” pasta salad since you can add anything according to your taste!
Step 3: Add The Dressing
Add approximately ¼-bottle of Italian dressing, then gently stir the salad until all the ingredients are well-coated and evenly distributed. Taste and add more dressing if you feel like it needs it.
Step 5: Chill The Salad
I recommend chilling this zesty Italian pasta salad in the fridge for 15 minutes before serving it. This allows the flavors to meld together and balance out.
What To Serve With Pasta Salad
Pair this zesty Italian pasta salad with other sides and barbecue staples for a full spread! Here’s a list of great ideas:
- Oven Baked BBQ Chicken Wings
- Corn on the Cob
- Dry Rub Ribs
- Potato Salad
- Crispy Baked Potatoes
- Gluten-free: For a gluten-free version, use your favorite gluten-free brand of pasta.
- Vegan: To accommodate a vegan diet, simply omit the feta or use a dairy-free cheese alternative.
- Southwest: Add corn and beans, and use a cilantro-lime dressing for a Southwest twist.
- Pesto: Replace the Italian dressing with a pesto-based dressing instead.
- Protein-packed: Add grilled chicken, tofu, pepperoni slices, or shrimp for a higher protein meal.
- Grilled veggies: For unique flavors and textures, try adding sliced zucchini, squash, eggplant, onion, or bell peppers.
Tips For The Best Recipe
- Cook to al dente: Cook the pasta to al dente to prevent the salad from becoming mushy.
- Rinse the pasta: Make sure to rinse the pasta under cold water to stop the cooking process.
- Drain the pasta: To avoid a watery pasta salad, remember to drain the pasta well.
- Chill the salad: Chill the pasta salad in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before serving it so the flavors meld together.
What To Do With Leftovers
If you have leftover zesty Italian pasta salad, just follow these simple storage tips:
- Fridge: This pasta salad will last in an airtight container for up to 4-5 days in the fridge. Just keep it in an airtight container.
- Freezer: Pasta salad isn’t freezer friendly since the pasta and veggies will change in texture once thawed.
- Make ahead: It’s good to allow the salad to “marinate” a little before serving. All of the flavors will combine and mix with the other ingredients. Since veggies absorb liquids, don’t add as much dressing the night before. Wait until you are ready to serve, then add it to taste.
If you enjoy side dishes and appetizers, have a look at some of my other favorites like these:
Frequently Asked Questions
What type of Italian dressing should I use?
You can use your favorite Italian dressing from the store, or make your own by combining olive oil, white wine vinegar, honey, Dijon, and Italian seasonings.
Can I use a different type of cheese?
Yes, instead of feta, you can use goat cheese, blue cheese, cotija cheese, or cubed mozzarella.
Can I use a different salad dressing instead of Italian?
Yes, many dressings work on classic pasta salads instead of Italian. Some of my favorites include Greek vinaigrette, balsamic vinaigrette, or even Caesar dressing.
Quick & Easy Pasta Salad
- 1 pound tricolored rotini or other spiral shaped pasta noodle
- 3 ounces black olives (sliced and drained (one small can))
- ¾ cup Italian dressing, plus more as needed (storebought or homemade)
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes
- ¼ cup banana pepper rings (roughly chopped)
- 1 bunch Green Onions (chopped for garnish)
- 1 cup feta cheese (crumbled, any flavor)
- 2 teaspoons oregano (dried)
- Salt & Pepper
- Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and let cool.*
- To a large mixing bowl, add cooled pasta, olives, whole cherry tomatoes, banana pepper rings, chopped green onion, feta cheese, seasonings.
- Stir gently to combine.
- Add approximately 1/4 of the bottle of Italian dressing and stir.
- Taste for flavor. Continue adding dressing as desired.
- Place in the fridge until ready to serve.
- Transfer to a serving platter and serve chilled.