Easy Italian pasta salad recipe

An easy Italian pasta salad recipe with a delicious balsamic vinegar dressing that uses minimum oil! 20 minutes and a few simple ingredients are all you need to enjoy this great summer salad. Minimum effort, mega taste!

closeup view of easy Italian pasta salad with balsamic vinaigrette in a white ceramic bowl.

About the recipe

This vegetarian pasta salad recipe is one of my favorites of all salads. It is made with whole-grain pasta, fresh feta cheese crumbs, sweet juicy cherry tomatoes, “instant-pickled” onions, olives, walnuts, herbs and a saucy balsamic vinaigrette. The choice of vegetables for pasta salad is actually up to you. Add whatever salad veggies you find in your fridge and you get an awesome zesty Italian pasta salad!

The Italian pasta salad dressing is where the magic happens. Balsamic vinegar combined with garlic and Italian herbs is so full of flavor with very few ingredients that you won’t believe you’re eating a healthy vegetarian salad. More importantly, this salad is not drenched in oil like most pasta salads. And you won’t need the sugar that most dressings use, since it is naturally sweet from the cherry tomatoes.

How to make Italian pasta salad

Vegetables for pasta salad

Onions, tomatoes, bell peppers (capsicum), cucumber or any other salad vegetables can be used for this salad.

No walnuts? use almonds. No parsley? Use any fresh herb or leafy greens. No garlic? use garlic powder. Want a pasta salad with meat? Add leftover/roast or sauteed chicken (If you want the recipe for a quick-seared chicken, check out the creamy pasta salad with chicken.)

See? You’ll love this pasta salad for being so easy and flexible. This might as well be a pasta salad for kids, by kids.

To soften the onions: Slice the red onions and submerge in a bowl of water with 1 tablespoon vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt for a minimum of 10 minutes to soften and take the bite out of the raw onions. Tastes even better if you can soak for 30 minutes.

What pasta to use

I’ve used whole grain rotini (fusilli) here with a handful of tricolor rotini for variation. Rotini cooks fast and also holds its shape while soaking up all that delicious sauce. Penne or farfalle can also be used.

How to make balsamic vinaigrette

balsamic vinegar – for the characteristic flavor boost.

extra virgin olive oil – same quantity as the vinegar.

dried Italian mixed herbs – can be substituted with oregano, basil and optional chili flakes.

garlic – a simple but must-have ingredient for pasta salad dressing.

salt and pepper – Himalayan pink salt or sea salt.

Whisk all ingredients together and drizzle on the salad.

easy Italian pasta salad in a white ceramic bowl with balsamic vinaigrette being drizzled.

Tips to make the best Italian pasta salad with balsamic vinaigrette

  • Using Himalayan pink salt gives an edge to the balsamic vinaigrette in terms of taste.
  • Soaking the red onion slices with vinegar and salt gives a kind of instant pickled effect.
  • There’s a whole lot of flavors going on, so you won’t really need sugar in this balsamic dressing recipe.
  • For making pasta salad, the pasta has to be always rinsed to stop the cooking process and also to remove the starch. This ensures that the pasta holds its shape and doesn’t stick together.
  • Whole-grain pasta is so satisfying that you can have this pasta salad as a vegetarian main meal or as a side with oven-baked chicken breasts. Think mid-week meatless meals or work-from-home quick lunch. So HEALTHY, so TASTY!

Make ahead option

This pasta salad keeps well if stored and used properly. Store in airtight containers so it doesn’t absorb flavors from other foods in the fridge. Follow the instructions below and you’ll be fine!

Refrigerating

  1. This salad lasts for about 3 to 4 days in the fridge, so it’s a perfect recipe for making ahead. It actually tastes better the next day. (Like the simple Indian chickpea salad.)
  2. Cook the pasta al dente.
  3. Reserve about 3 to 4 tablespoons of the dressing and add just before serving. This will help keep the pasta salad moist since it tends to get dry when refrigerated.
  4. Do the same for leftovers. (always reserve some dressing, the dressing keeps for a week so even if you have leftover dressing, it can be used for another salad!)

Freezing

  1. It keeps for 2 months in the fridge, though the texture may not be the same. You can preserve the texture if you store the dressing separately.
  2. Cook the pasta al dente.
  3. Do not add herbs since they tend to brown in the freezer.
  4. Thaw the salad in the fridge overnight.

If this pasta salad is a winner, you may also like the creamy pasta with chickpeas and spinach.

More salad recipes

closeup view of easy Italian pasta salad with balsamic vinegar in a ceramic bowl.

Italian pasta salad with balsamic dressing

Easy Italian pasta salad recipe with balsamic vinaigrette and feta cheese, whole grain pasta, olives and "instant-pickled" onions. A time-saving dinner/ lunch recipe, also good for meal prep. Minimum effort, mega taste!
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Total Time 20 mins
Course Appetizer, brunch, dinner, LUNCH, Main Course, Party food, Side Dish
Cuisine Italian
Servings 4 people
Calories 206 kcal

Ingredients
  

balsamic dressing

  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil extra virgin
  • 1 teaspoon mixed Italian dried herbs (or 1/2 tsp dried oregano+1/2 tsp dried basil)
  • 1 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (or 1 garlic clove minced)
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes optional
  • black pepper to taste

veggie pasta salad

  • 3/4 cup rotini pasta whole-grain (see note 3)
  • 1/4 cup regular rotini pasta
  • 1 red onion thinly sliced and softened (see note 1)
  • 1 tbsp vinegar to soften the onions (any vinegar is fine)
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, red and yellow mixed halved
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese crumbled into big chunks
  • 1/2 cup parsley chopped
  • 1/4 cup olives sliced
  • 10 walnuts

Instructions
 

pasta

  • Boil 1 litre (4 cups) of water with salt. Add the whole grain pasta first since it takes 4 to 5 minutes more to cook than the regular ones. After 5 minutes, add the tricolor pasta. Bring it to a boil again and simmer for 10 minutes.

balsamic vinaigrette

  • Shake together all ingredients in a jar.

Easy Italian pasta salad

  • Prepare the rest of the ingredients, chopping and slicing while the pasta is cooking.
    Slice the onion thinly and submerge in a bowl of water mixed with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon vinegar. This softens and takes the bite out of raw onions. Drain and squeeze the water out after 10 minutes.
  • Once pasta is cooked, strain the cooked pasta and rinse to stop it from cooking further and to avoid it from sticking together.
  • Toss all the ingredients together. The pasta salad can be served immediately or chilled. It tastes even better the next day.
  • If you're planning to chill the salad, reserve about 2 to 3 tablespoons of dressing. Chill the pasta salad in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes or more, and toss with the remaining dressing before serving.

Notes

  1. MAKE-AHEAD OPTION (refrigerating): This pasta salad keeps well in the fridge for 4 days. Store in airtight containers. Reserve 3 tablespoons of dressing (as mentioned in the instructions above) and add before serving since 
  2. FREEZING: It keeps for 2 months in the fridge, though the texture may not be the same. You can preserve the texture if you store the dressing separately. Do not add herbs since they tend to brown in the freezer. Thaw the salad in the fridge overnight.
  3. Soaking the onions in vinegar and salt gives a kind of “pickled” effect and can be done for any salad that uses raw onions. It tastes even better if soaked longer, for about 30 minutes.
  4. You can use 1 cup of whole-grain pasta or a mix of whole-grain and regular pasta. I’ve mixed tricolor pasta for variation.
  5. Though any short pasta can be used, rotini is best suited for this pasta salad. The dressing and bits of cheese cling onto the curves, making every bit of it flavorful.
  6. Himalayan pink salt adds additional flavor to the balsamic vinaigrette, making this a unique pasta salad.
  7. You’ll need only 1/4 cup of olive oil for this salad recipe for 4 servings and is definitely a low-calorie option without any compromise on taste.
For gluten-free Italian pasta salad: Use gluten-free brown rice pasta. The cooking instructions are the same as above.
 
Easy Italian pasta salad recipe
Keyword dressing recipe with balsamic vinegar, easy Italian pasta salad, Italian pasta salad dressing, veggie pasta salad recipe

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– Sheeba.

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6 thoughts on “Easy Italian pasta salad recipe”

  1. Looks really good. Wanted to ask, if I plan to make this pasta salad 1 day in advance, can I still add cherry tomatoes and cucumber? Or I should add those later (the day when I want to serve).
    Also, any particular balsamic vinegar brand you recommend ?

    1. Hi Monal,
      Thanks for taking the time to read the recipe and comment. This salad can be made in advance with all ingredients, including tomatoes and cucumber. You don’t have to worry about it getting soggy since the pasta absorbs all the extra moisture, which adds to the flavor 🙂
      I used a German brand for balsamic vinegar, but any good quality one is fine.

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