Easy Italian Pasta Salad with Balsamic Dressing

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!

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

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.

Like my chilli pesto pasta recipe made with red pesto, this pasta salad is spicy, sweet, and tangy with lots of herbs, nuts and veggie goodness.

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.

We often eat this balsamic pasta salad with baked chicken legs with mint. On days when we have seafood, it would be lemon garlic shrimps, citrus flavored salmon or panko-crusted fish.

Video

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.

easy Italian pasta salad in a white ceramic bowl with the balsamic dressing being drizzled on it.

Recipe tips

  • 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 are 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.

If you made the chilli pesto with almonds, you can add a spoonful of it to this balsamic pasta salad for more complex spicy flavors.

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!

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. I like to call it “the potluck pasta salad.” (Similar to the easy 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, another LOADED Italian pasta recipe.

Love recipes with balsamic vinegar? This easy lemon balsamic chicken will blow your mind!

More salad recipes

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

Easy Italian Pasta Salad with Balsamic Dressing

A simple Italian pasta salad with balsamic vinaigrette! 20 minutes and a few basic ingredients are all you need to enjoy this great Italian summer salad. Minimum effort, mega taste!
Author: Sheeba
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 vinaigrette

  • 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 red chili flakes
  • black pepper to taste

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 1 tablespoon of 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 herb vinaigrette

  • Shake together all ingredients in a jar.

Pasta salad with balsamic dressing

  • 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 pasta with the vegetables. Add in the dressing and toss again. 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.

Video

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 with Balsamic Dressing

★★★★★Did you try this recipe? Please give a star rating in the comments below ★★★★★

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9 thoughts on “Easy Italian Pasta Salad with Balsamic Dressing”

  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.

  2. 4 stars
    Simply delicious! I must say, your recipes are totally mouthwatering. I will definitely try this at home as I am really fond of Italian pasta.

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