An easy Italian pasta salad with balsamic dressing! 20 minutes and a few simple ingredients are all you need to enjoy this great Italian summer salad. Minimum effort, mega taste!
About the recipe
This cold pasta salad with balsamic vinaigrette 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 low-fat balsamic vinaigrette.
The balsamic 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 low-calorie pasta salad. With just about 200 calories, this salad is not drenched in oil like most pasta salads. And you won’t need the sugar that most dressings use. The balsamic vinegar and tomatoes give natural sweetness to this LOADED PASTA SALAD.
How to make Italian pasta salad with balsamic dressing- step by step
Vegetables for pasta salad
Onions, tomatoes, bell peppers (capsicum), cucumber or any other salad vegetables can be used for this salad. The choice of vegetables for pasta salad is actually up to you. Add whatever salad veggies you find in your fridge and toss with the easy balsamic herb vinaigrette. You get an awesome zesty Italian pasta salad!
No walnuts? use almonds. No parsley? Use any fresh herb or leafy greens. No garlic? Use garlic powder. Want a complete pasta salad with protein? Add leftover roast, baked (easy baked chicken breasts) or seared chicken (If you want the recipe for a quick-seared chicken, check out my recipe for creamy pasta salad with chicken.)
See? You’ll love this balsamic vinaigrette 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. I love spiral pasta recipes because they cook fast and also hold their shape while soaking up all that delicious sauce. Penne or farfalle can also be used.
How to make balsamic vinaigrette for pasta salad
The easy balsamic dressing requires 5 basic ingredients:
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 and basil.
red chilli flakes – this is what makes the vinaigrette deliciously spicy.
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.
- Using Himalayan pink salt gives an edge to the balsamic vinaigrette in terms of taste.
- Don’t skip soaking the red onion slices with vinegar and salt. This 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!
Variation: Basil balsamic vinaigrette
Add even more flavor to this pasta salad by replacing the olive oil with basil-infused olive oil, if you can get it. It gives a whole new dimension to this simple pasta salad!
Make ahead option
This balsamic vinaigrette salad is great for meal prep. If you’re wondering how long this pasta salad is good for, it 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!
- 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. I like to call it “the potluck pasta salad.” (Similar to the easy Indian chickpea salad)
- Cook the pasta al dente.
- 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.
- 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!)
- 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.
- Cook the pasta al dente.
- Do not add herbs since they tend to brown in the freezer.
- 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, another LOADED Italian pasta recipe.
Love recipes with balsamic vinegar? This easy lemon balsamic chicken will blow your mind!
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