Italian Pasta Salad

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This Italian Pasta Salad is loaded with all the best ingredients. It’s brimming with juicy, sweet, cherry tomatoes. Crunchy crisp cucumbers. Savory black olives. Zesty Parmesan cheese. Sharp red onions. Fire-roasted red peppers. Spicy and savory salami. And tender rotisserie chicken. Everything combines to create a flavor explosion! Italian Pasta Salad is dressed in a homemade creamy Italian dressing. However, if you prefer, you can pick up bottled dressing at the grocery store.

Overhead view of a large bowl of Italian Pasta Salad.

Italian Pasta Salad

This Italian pasta salad is the ultimate summer lunch or dinner! It’s hearty with plenty of protein, yet fresh and bright. And while mayo-laden dressings definitely have their place in summer pasta salads like this broccoli grape pasta salad, or this Mexican street corn pasta salad, it’s nice to swap out the mayo for something a little lighter.

There is still a little bit (just 2 tablespoons!) of mayo in this dressing so it feels thick and creamy, but it’s primarily an oil and vinegar dressing with plenty of dried Italian herbs! 

Process shots: adding dressing ingredients to a jar; shaking the jar to mix; cooked and cooled pasta; additional ingredients added; drizzling on the dressing; adding parsley and Parmesan cheese.

Veggie cutting hack

To chop the tomatoes and olives easier and quicker, I like to use a little hack. Here’s what you need:

  • 2 plates with footed bottoms
  • A sharp serrated knife

Flip one plate upside down on the counter and place the tomatoes in the bottom footed section. Place the another plate right side up on top of the tomatoes. Push your top hand down on top of the plate applying gentle pressure and then cut through the center of the tomatoes. Remove the top plate and *voila* tons of perfectly halved cherry tomatoes with very little effort!

Then repeat with the olives. 

View of all the ingredients grouped together.

Italian Pasta Salad tips

  • Use small-textured pasta. Choose pasta that has plenty of nooks and crannies to hold that delicious Italian dressing. If you can’t find rotini, I recommend miniature shells, miniature farfalle, or fusilli.
  • Tame the bite of red onion. If you’re sensitive to the flavor of raw red onion, soak the diced onions in ice cold, salted water for 10 minutes. Drain thoroughly before adding to the salad.
  • Salt the pasta water. Since this pasta is eaten cold, the flavors tend to get muted. Make sure the pasta is well-salted as it cooks, since salting is the only chance you have to season the actual pasta. Don’t be afraid to add more salt to the finished salad if it needs it. Read about how to properly salt your pasta water here. As a general rule of thumb, I add 1 teaspoon salt to 4 cups of water.

More tips

  • Cook the pasta to al dente. Since the pasta sits in dressing, it has a tendency to get soggy if overcooked. Pasta also gets a little firmer when served cold, so don’t under-cook it! I cook it right to the package directions of what al dente is (for rotini, that’s 7-8 minutes). 
  • Use a roasted red pepper. While a raw red pepper will work in this salad, roasted red peppers are softer and have such a great smokey flavor. You can buy jars of roasted red peppers at the store; they are usually near things like pickles, capers and artichoke hearts.
  • If you have time, make the dressing in advance. This dressing improves if it’s made in advance and chilling in the fridge; the flavors meld together and intensify, plus, it’s just better chilled! When chilling the dressing, separation is normal. Let it sit out for 5 or so minutes and give it a good shake before adding to the salad.

Overhead view of the ingredients being mixed to together

Rotisserie chicken

Using rotisserie chicken makes this Italian Pasta Salad come together so quickly. It also becomes an even more flavorful salad because the rotisserie chicken is seasoned.

If you aren’t purchasing a rotisserie chicken, you can make your own rotisserie chicken and then use the leftover meat in this salad. Alternatively, you can use leftover grilled chicken or any other leftover chicken; just make sure to chop it into bite-sized pieces. 

I’ll usually buy (or make) a rotisserie chicken and use it in one meal (like in these jalapeño chicken salad sandwiches or these rotisserie chicken tacos) and set aside about 1 cup of the chicken to use in this salad later in the week.

Up-close view of the finished Italian Pasta Salad.

Italian Pasta Salad dressing alternatives

This dressing recipe is one of my all-time favorites on the site. In fact, its rare there isn’t a batch of it in my fridge to use on salads throughout the week. I also love how quickly it comes together –just add a bunch of ingredients to a mason jar and shake to combine — really, that’s it!

That said, if you don’t want to make the homemade dressing, you can replace it with one (16-ounce) bottle of Zesty Italian Dressing and one envelope (.7 ounces) of a dry Italian dressing mix. Whisk the two together and pour over the Italian pasta salad (you’ll likely use just over half of the dressing). Another good alternative is bottled Olive Garden® salad dressing.

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Italian Pasta Salad

5 from 2 votes
This Italian Pasta Salad is loaded with all the best ingredients. It’s brimming with juicy sweet cherry tomatoes. Crunchy crisp cucumbers. Savory black olives. Zesty Parmesan cheese. Sharp red onions. Fire-roasted red peppers. Spicy and savory salami. And tender rotisserie chicken. Everything combines to create a flavor explosion! The salad is dressed in a homemade creamy Italian dressing. However, if you prefer, you can pick up bottled dressing at the grocery store.
Print Recipe

Italian Pasta Salad

5 from 2 votes
This Italian Pasta Salad is loaded with all the best ingredients. It’s brimming with juicy sweet cherry tomatoes. Crunchy crisp cucumbers. Savory black olives. Zesty Parmesan cheese. Sharp red onions. Fire-roasted red peppers. Spicy and savory salami. And tender rotisserie chicken. Everything combines to create a flavor explosion! The salad is dressed in a homemade creamy Italian dressing. However, if you prefer, you can pick up bottled dressing at the grocery store.
Course Salad
Cuisine Italian
Keyword Italian Pasta Salad
Prep Time 25 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 8 as a side
Calories 401kcal
Cost $5.50

Ingredients

  • 3 cups uncooked pasta (such as small shells or rotini)
  • 1 cup (4 oz; 110g) rotisserie chicken, shredded and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup (3 oz; 65g) salami, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup (160g) cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 cup (10g) flat leaf parsley, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup (63g) black olives, halved
  • 1/2 cup (90g) roasted red bell pepper, coarsely chopped (See Note 1)
  • 1 cup (125g) English cucumber (or Persian cucumbers) cut into half moons
  • 1/4 cup (30g) red onion, finely diced
  • 1/3 cup (20g) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley finely chopped

Dressing

  • 1/3 cup (73g) red wine vinegar
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon EACH: dried oregano, Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon white granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (104g) olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons good-quality full fat mayonnaise (I like Best Foods/Hellmans)

Instructions

  • DRESSING: In a large mason jar, add all the dressing ingredients: 1/3 cup red wine vinegar, 1 and 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning, 1 teaspoon white sugar, 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons mayo, and salt & pepper to taste (I use 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper). Put on the lid and shake to combine. It might take a minute of good vigorous shaking, but the mayo should completely integrate (keep shaking until it does). If you have time, make this ahead and chill in the fridge to intensify the flavors. Shake again right before mixing in to the salad.
  • PASTA: Prepare the pasta according to package directions. Make sure to generously salt the water (I add 1 teaspoon to every 4 cups of water). Don't forget to salt the pasta water or the whole salad will taste under-seasoned. Drain, rinse under cold water, and toss with 2 tablespoons of the prepared Italian dressing. Set aside.
  • SALAD INGREDIENTS: Chop the rotisserie chicken, chop or thinly slice the salami, halve the tomatoes, finely chop the parsley, halve the olives, chop the pepper, chop the cucumber, and dice the red onion.
  • DRESS SALAD: Toss all the prepared veggies/meats with the pasta. Add the grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley. Add dressing to preference (we use it all, but you may like less!). Toss the salad. Season with any additional salt and pepper if needed.
  • ENJOY: Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes. Toss again and enjoy!

Video

Recipe Notes

Note 1: You can buy jars of roasted red peppers at the store; they are usually near things like pickles, capers and artichoke hearts.

Nutrition Facts

Serving: 8as a side | Calories: 401kcal | Carbohydrates: 30.9g | Protein: 14.8g | Fat: 24.1g | Cholesterol: 31.1mg | Sodium: 344.1mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 3.5g

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8 Comments

  1. ahh nutrition labels are SO clutch, that’s major Chelsea!!! and this pasta salad looks amazing, so delicious and easy xo

  2. We can always eat a good pasta salad around here they’re good warm the first time around and even more flavorful eaten cold the next! I like the Italian twist on this one and it will be a great use for my basil. I have a ton of basil on hand right now too!

  3. 5 stars
    I really really loved this salad! I made it exactly as your recipe is written. When I tasted it, there just seemed to be a little something missing. I added about a 1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano and that was it! It seemed to give it just the little extra something it needed. I will make this salad time and time again! Thank you for the recipe!

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