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!
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.
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!
- 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.)
- 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.
More salad recipes
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