Pasta Salad

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Creamy and tangy homemade pasta salad is a versatile recipe that’s great for making as a main or side dish with any Italian-inspired meal. Bursting with slightly sweet and wonderfully sour flavors, it features a mayo dressing and lots of crunchy fresh veggies.

pasta salad in a bowl sprinkled with parsley and a brass fork by side

Why this recipe works

Part healthy salad, part comforting pasta, this bright and tasty pasta salad recipe has everything you love in one dish.

It’s perfect for customizing with your favorite veggies, and can easily be made with several convenient swaps. Want olives? Add olives! Don’t have fresh herbs? Add dried herbs! Whatever you’ve got on hand is great for making a simple yet satisfying pasta salad.

Serve either fresh or make ahead for an easy meal, and enjoy either hot or cold. I love to have it alongside some of my other favorite Italian recipes, like Eggplant Parmesan or with a comforting Minestrone soup.

Or eat it right out of the bowl for a snack! There really is no wrong way to enjoy pasta salad with vegetables and herbs.

Step-by-Step Guide

How to make Pasta Salad

Before you prepare the pasta salad from scratch, you have to cook the pasta, right? So let’s begin.

Cooking pasta

1. Bring 4 cups of heavily salted water to a boil in a large pot on high heat. When cooking pasta you want to include enough salt so that the water “tastes like the ocean” – so don’t skimp!

Add 1 cup (100 grams) ziti or your preferred small-to-medium sized pasta to the boiling water.

ziti pasta being added to hot water

2. Reduce the heat to medium or medium-high, so that the water continues boiling but does not bubble over. Stir the pasta in intervals as you cook for 8 to 10 minutes or according to package directions.

pasta cooking in hot boiling water

3. The pasta should be al dente, or feel free to cook longer if you like a softer texture or if you are going to serve the pasta salad cold.

cooked al dente pasta

4. Once cooked strain the pasta in a colander.

TIP: If you plan to make a cold pasta salad, then rinse the pasta in fresh water. This would loosen them up and they won’t stick. Or drizzle some olive oil on them and mix gently.

cooked pasta in a strainer

Preparing veggies

5. Finely chop 1 medium onion, 1 small green bell pepper (capsicum), celery and parsley. Peel and grate 1 small to medium carrot.

You will need ⅓ cup finely chopped onions, ½ cup grated carrots, ⅓ cup finely chopped capsicum, 1 tablespoon minced or finely chopped celery and 1 tablespoon chopped parsley.

fresh veggies chopped on a wooden board for pasta salad

Making the mayo dressing

6. This zesty mayo dressing is easy to whip up! First, take 6 tablespoons of an egg-free or vegan mayonnaise in a bowl. Add in 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon dijon mustard and 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil.

The mayonnaise that I had was a bit runny. Thanks to my recipe trials to get the perfect eggfree, vegan mayo, which I finally did achieve. Get that recipe here – Vegan Mayonnaise

mayo, dijon mustard, extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar in a bowl

7. Use a whisk to mix thoroughly.

dressing ingredients mixed evenly

8. Add in the ground spices – ¼ teaspoon black pepper powder, ½ teaspoon sweet paprika or red chilli powder. Season with ¼ to ½ teaspoon raw sugar and add salt according to your liking. Combine and mix.

TIP: Check the taste of the dressing and feel free to add more seasonings to suit your taste. You can add more sugar too. Sugar balances the acidic taste of the vinegar and mustard.

ground spices added

Assembling

9. Add the cooked pasta.

cooked and drained pasta add to dressing

10. Add the chopped onions, carrots, capsicum (bell pepper), celery and parsley.

veggies, parsley and celery added

11. Toss and combine well so that the pasta and veggies are coated with the mayo dressing.

homemade pasta salad mixed and tossed with veggies

12. Serve right away while warm, or allow the pasta salad to cool before storing in the fridge to chill and enjoy cold.

pasta salad in a bowl sprinkled with parsley and a brass fork placed on top

Serving suggestions

Enjoy pasta salad as a main dish with other Italian-inspired sides, like homemade Foccacia Bread or Cheese Breadsticks.

For a lighter meal serve with fresh greens – like spinach or kale, either as a raw salad or steamed.

It’s great for brunch or an afternoon lunch, or even as a hearty snack between meals!

How long will pasta salad last in the fridge?

Transfer homemade pasta salad to an airtight container and keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 to 3 days. The flavors will get even better as they sit together!

To maintain the best texture I don’t recommend that you freeze.

Tips

Helpful Tips

  • Veggies: Add a handful of boiled corn kernels or green peas for extra veggies. You can also add sautéed or blanched dark leafy greens, like spinach, chard or kale. Some lettuce would also taste great.
  • Vinegar: I use red wine vinegar, but feel free to use white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or white vinegar instead.
  • Pasta: Any medium to small pasta or macaroni can be used to make this salad. While this recipe calls for ziti, you can include fussili, bowtie, rigatoni, shell or farfalle pasta. 
  • Herbs: Add your preferred choice of fresh or dried herbs. You can also increase or decrease the quantity of herbs.
  • Ground spices: Skip black pepper or sweet paprika if you do not prefer them. In place of sweet paprika, add ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper. 
  • Gluten-free: Make the salad with a gluten-free pasta variety.

FAQs

Can you eat pasta salad cold?

Yes, you can eat this pasta salad cold if you cook the pasta slightly softer and rinse pasta in fresh water. Rinsing pasta won’t make them stick. Check for my tips above in the step-by-step guide. Eating a pasta salad cold also depends on your recipe. If the dressing is creamy and has good amount of fats and moisture, your pasta salad can be eaten cold as it won’t become dry.

Should you rinse pasta for pasta salad?

Yes it is better if you rinse the cooked pasta when making a cold salad. Rinsing them makes sure that they do not stick or become clumpy. If serving the salad hot or warm, there is no need to rinse.

How do you keep pasta salad moist?

The key to a moist pasta salad is the dressing that you include. If the dressing is moist, slightly thinner and has a bit more oil, your salad won’t become dry. A helpful tip is to drizzle some olive on the pasta and mix before you season and add the dressing sauce. Adding a little extra dressing also helps to keep the salad moist.

Why is my pasta salad bitter?

Use fresh ingredients in your salad. A rancid mustard or too much of vinegar can make your salad bitter or sour.

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pasta salad in a bowl sprinkled with parsley and a brass fork by side

Pasta Salad

5 from 8 votes
Creamy homemade pasta salad that’s great for making as a main or side dish. Bursting with slightly sweet and wonderfully sour flavors, it features a mayo dressing and some crunchy fresh veggies.
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 10 mins
Total Time 20 mins

Cuisine Italian, World
Course: Side Dish
Diet: Vegan, Vegetarian
Difficulty Level: Easy

Servings 3
Units

Ingredients

For cooking pasta

  • 1 cup ziti or macaroni – 100 grams
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt or as required

Other ingredients

  • cup finely chopped capsicum (green bell pepper) or 1 small capsicum
  • ½ cup grated carrots or 1 small to medium carrot
  • cup finely chopped onions or 1 small to medium onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced celery or finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 6 to 7 olives green or black – optional
  • 1 tablespoon parsley leaves – for garnish

For dressing

  • 6 tablespoons Mayonnaise egg free or vegan
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper powder
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • salt as required
  • ½ teaspoon sweet paprika or red chilli powder, add as per taste
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon raw sugar or as required

Instructions

Cooking pasta

  • Bring heavily salted water to a boil in a large pot on high heat. When cooking pasta you want to include enough salt so that the water “tastes like the ocean”.
  • Add ziti or your preferred small-to-medium sized pasta to the boiling water.
  • Reduce the heat to medium or medium-high, so that the water continues boiling but does not bubble over. Stir the pasta in intervals and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or according to package directions.
  • The pasta should be al dente, or feel free to cook longer if you like a softer texture or are making a cold salad.
  • Once cooked strain the pasta in a colander.
  • For a cold salad, rinse the salad in fresh water or drizzle some oil on them and mix gently – to prevent the pasta from sticking.

Making mayo dressing

  • Take the mayonnaise, extra virgin olive oil, dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, ground black pepper, sweet paprika, sugar and salt as per taste in a mixing bowl.
  • Mix very well.
  • Check the taste of the dressing and feel free to add more seasonings to suit your taste. You can add more sugar too.

Making pasta salad

  • Add the cooked pasta.
  • Add in the chopped veggies – onions, capsicum, carrots. Add the finely chopped celery, parsley and sliced olives if using.
  • Toss and combine well so that the pasta and veggies are coated with the mayo dressing.
  • Garnish with parsley and serve right away while warm, or allow the pasta salad to cool before storing in the fridge to chill and enjoy cold.

Serving suggestions

  • Serve pasta salad as a main dish with your preferred Italian-inspired sides.
  • For a lighter meal serve with fresh vegetables – cucumber, radish, carrots or greens – like spinach or kale, either as a raw salad or steamed.
  • Pasta salad is great for brunch or an afternoon lunch, or even as a hearty snack between meals.

Notes

Storing

Transfer homemade pasta salad to an airtight container and keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 to 3 days. To maintain the best texture I don’t suggest that you freeze.

Variations

  • Veggies: Add a handful of boiled corn kernels or green peas for extra veggies. You can also add sautéed or blanched dark leafy greens, like spinach, chard or kale. Some lettuce also tastes nice. 
  • Vinegar: I use red wine vinegar, but feel free to use white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or white vinegar instead.
  • Pasta type: Any medium to small pasta or macaroni can be used to make this salad. While my recipe calls for ziti, you can include fussili, bowtie, rigatoni, shell or farfalle pasta.
  • Herbs: You can fresh or dried herbs of your liking or change their quantities. 
  • Gluten-free: To make a gluten-free salad replace ziti with a gluten-free pasta variety.
  • Spices: Omit black pepper or paprika if you do not prefer these. In place of sweet paprika, add ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper. 

Nutrition Info Approximate values

Nutrition Facts
Pasta Salad
Amount Per Serving
Calories 260 Calories from Fat 99
% Daily Value*
Fat 11g17%
Saturated Fat 2g13%
Cholesterol 3mg1%
Sodium 1441mg63%
Potassium 215mg6%
Carbohydrates 36g12%
Fiber 3g13%
Sugar 6g7%
Protein 5g10%
Vitamin A 4014IU80%
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) 1mg67%
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) 1mg59%
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) 1mg5%
Vitamin B6 1mg50%
Vitamin C 19mg23%
Vitamin E 2mg13%
Vitamin K 61µg58%
Calcium 28mg3%
Vitamin B9 (Folate) 19µg5%
Iron 1mg6%
Magnesium 28mg7%
Phosphorus 79mg8%
Zinc 1mg7%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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This pasta salad recipe from the archives (January 2013) has been republished and updated on 7 January 2021 with a better recipe, newer photos, my tips and faqs.

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Meet Dassana

Welcome to Dassana's Veg Recipes. I share vegetarian recipes from India & around the World. Having been cooking for decades and with a professional background in cooking & baking, I help you to make your cooking journey easier with my tried and tested recipes showcased with step by step photos & plenty of tips & suggestions.

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9 Comments

  1. Hey
    Can you please add some more recipes of international salads like som tum salad or watermelon salad.

    1. do plan to add garima, but at my home no one is fond of salads. so i have to eat all the salad that i make 🙂 what is tum salad?

      1. Som Tum salad is a Thai salad which is made with Raw Papaya. It has a lot of flavours in it. It’s sweet, tangy and hot too. More than a salad, it can be served as a starter too. It is also addressed as Som Tam salad too.

    1. Herbes de Provence is a mixture of dried herbs which is used commonly in France.