This classic Italian pasta salad recipe is so simple to put together! It’s filled with chilled rotini, plenty of veggies, mozzarella cheese, and our homemade Italian dressing. Light and fresh, it’s the perfect addition to a picnic or potluck.

Italian pasta salad.

Is there anything better than a fresh salad on a warm day? Honestly, we enjoy salads all year round. But there is something to be said about munching on something light and chilled on a summer’s day. Introducing, this Italian pasta salad recipe. There are certain classic recipes that are tried and true for a reason. This is definitely one of them! It’s filled with simple and easy-to-find ingredients, and putting everything together is almost effortless. The homemade Italian dressing really takes this dish up a notch. Paired with noodles, tomatoes, pepperoncini to add a bit of heat, and a bit of pepperoni. Serve it as an appetizer or as a side. It’s a great dish to bring along to a picnic, potluck, or barbecue. Who will you share yours with?

Is Italian Pasta Salad Really An Italian Dish?

No, this isn’t an authentic Italian dish. It’s called Italian pasta salad thanks to the addition of Italian dressing. “Italian” pasta salad is very much an American dish, not traditional fare from Italy. 

What Other Pasta Shapes Can I Use?

This classic pasta salad calls for rotini pasta. We love using this shape of noodle, but you can feel free to use:

  • Bowties
  • Shells
  • Radiatore
  • Macaroni

Chef’s choice!

Can I Use Store Bought Dressing Instead?

We always recommend making homemade dressing when you can. It’s such an easy yet meaningful addition to any salad recipe. But, we also know that you may not always have time to make it or are perhaps missing a few key ingredients. In that case, opt for your favorite bottled Italian dressing. You’ll find several varieties at the grocery store. 

Cheese Options:

The mini-mozzarella balls in this dish are our favorite, but if you don’t like them or can’t find them, then you can feel free to use whatever type of cheese you prefer. Here are some other great options:

  • Diced block mozzarella
  • Monterey Jack
  • Cheddar

Opt for your favorite!

Easy to Make Substitutions and Variations:

Our classic pasta salad does include pepperoni, so if you want to make it vegetarian feel free to skip it. If protein is a concern, you can add tofu or chickpeas instead. To make this dish vegan-friendly, get rid of the cheese. The pepperoncini are slightly spicy, so if you don’t like spice you can take those out as well. Replace with some crunchy bell peppers!

Do You Rinse Pasta for Cold Pasta Salad?

Rinsing pasta for warm pasta dishes is usually a big no-no – don’t get us started on wasting that precious pasta water! That said, for this dish you should rinse your rotini. Rinsing your noodles in cold water will stop them from cooking any further. It will also get rid of a lot of the starch that causes them to stick together. Finally, you need to use cold pasta for this recipe, and running the rotini under cool water will speed up the cooling process.

Serving Suggestions:

Whether you serve this classic pasta salad as an appetizer or a side, you need a few other components to round out a meal. Here’s what we suggest you serve yours with:

Overhead view of Italian pasta salad.

Make-Ahead Instructions:

If you’re a fan of meal prepping, or simply want to get ahead of schedule before a big picnic or barbecue, you can make your classic pasta salad ahead of time. Cook the pasta and let it cool completely before placing it in the fridge. As a note, cooked pasta will keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. You can also prepare the dressing in advance and also store it in the fridge. We recommend chopping the rest of the ingredients just before you plan on serving for the best results.

Storage Instructions:

You can store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge, where they will keep for 3-4 days. We highly recommend that you don’t try to freeze this Italian pasta salad. Freezing can give the pasta a funky texture when you defrost it, and the other ingredients generally don’t defrost well either.

If you like this recipe, you may be interested in these other delicious pasta salad recipes: