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Zesty Italian Pasta Salad – A Quick, Easy and Refreshing Side Dish Recipe

No need to buy pre-made pasta salad at the grocery store, instead make your own Zesty Italian Pasta Salad for your next backyard picnic. It is super easy to make it yourself, and you can customize it to include whatever ingredients that your friends and family prefer.

Yes, sometimes it is much easier to purchase a quart of pasta salad from the deli counter at the grocery store. However, many times there are ingredients that are included in the cold salad that not everyone in your family likes.

Whether it is the olives that I personally don’t like or the tomatoes that a few of the kids don’t prefer, the store-bought version just isn’t for everyone. Not to mention the cost is much higher when purchasing it already prepared.

zesty italian pasta salad
Homemade Zesty Italian Pasta Salad – easy to make and to customize to your preference.

Therefore, it is much more beneficial to make it yourself with just a few basic ingredients. Although I love to make my award-winning BLT Pasta Salad on some occasions, this recipe includes the ingredients and instructions for making traditional pasta salad.

Although, I better start off by defining what I consider a traditional pasta salad. Unlike Classic Macaroni Salad, cold pasta salad is made by tossing cooked and cooled pasta in a vinegar based dressing.

Included in the salad are various vegetables, most often cucumbers, celery, carrots and tomatoes. And it could possibly include cheese or bits of protein scattered throughout.

However, no matter what you add to the salad, it all starts with the pasta. Although you could use just about any type of pasta, there is one variety that makes the best pasta salad.

What Type of Pasta to Use For Pasta Salad

The best pasta to use for homemade, Zesty Italian Pasta Salad is Rotini pasta. Rotini pasta is known for its distinct corkscrew like shape.

There are two reasons why it is the preferred pasta when making pasta salad:

1. The pasta is easy to stab with a fork. There is nothing worse than trying to pick up slippery pasta. You spend more time chasing it around on your plate than you do eating it and often times it falls down onto your lap.

2. However, more importantly, the spirals of the rotini pasta act like a shelf. This allows both the dressing and small bits of vegetables to sit on the spirals of the noodles. Therefore, each bite is full of flavor.

tri color rotini pasta draining
The best pasta to use for making homemade pasta salad is Rotini pasta. And it is much more visually appealing if you use tri-color pasta.

Although you could also use penne or fusilli pasta as well, the rotini pasta is definitely the pasta of choice in this recipe. And yes, most of the time I prefer the tricolor rotini.

There is just something colorful about a plate of tricolor pasta salad! And if you choose or need to be gluten-free there are several options for Gluten-Free Rotini Pasta as well.

Pasta Salad Dressing

Although you can make your own homemade dressing, I most often use Zesty Robosto Italian Dressing instead. There are more spices in the zesty version when compared to standard Italian dressing.

The extra spices add a great depth of flavor that you would miss if you didn’t use it. However, if you want to make your own dressing, I have included the ingredients and instructions below.

Vegetables and The Extras

Now that you know what type of pasta and dressing to use, it is time to add in the extras. Here is where you can customize the Zesty Italian Pasta Salad to your liking.

The recipe included below is my favorite ‘everyone likes it’ recipe. However, feel free to mix up the vegetables and add a few other speciality ingredients.

For instance, add in a handful of diced pepperoni. Or how about small mozzarella balls?

And if you like black olives, you can even add those in as well. The choices are endless when it comes to homemade pasta salad.

pasta salad with olives and cheese cubes
Although the ingredients listed below don’t include olives, cheese or broccoli, feel free to add whatever ingredients that you like into your pasta salad!

Zesty Italian Pasta Salad Recipe

*Specific measurements and complete recipe instructions are located in a printable recipe card at the bottom of this article. However, be sure to continue to read the tips and tricks to making this recipe below.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 12 ounce box Rotini pasta, Tri-color preferred
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 4 celery ribs, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 medium cucumber, diced
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 small sweet red pepper, diced
  • 8 ounces Zesty Italian dressing, more or less to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

The first step in making Zesty Italian Pasta Salad is to cook the pasta to al’ dente consistency. Because all brands of pasta vary on the suggested cook time, be sure to read the instructions on the package.

When the pasta is cooked, immediately drain and run cold water over the pasta to stop the cooking process. While the water is running, be sure to toss the pasta in the colander so the center of the pile can get cooled down as well.

Set the pasta aside and prepare the vegetables. Start by dicing the onion, celery, carrots, cucumbers, and sweet red pepper. Then using a serrated knife, cut the tomatoes in half.

Now place the cooked and cooled pasta into a large serving bowl. Then add the cut vegetables and to the pasta and gently toss.

Next pour the Zesty Italian dressing on top of the pasta and veggies and toss to coat. Continue to toss until all of the pasta is evenly coated and the vegetables are scattered.

Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours for best results. Prior to serving toss the pasta salad well and add more Zesty Italian dressing per taste.

Homemade Italian Dressing
If you prefer, instead of using store-bought Zesty Italian dressing, you can make your own with the recipe below.

Homemade Zesty Italian Dressing For Pasta Salad

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 TBSP. red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp dry Italian seasoning
  • 1 TBSP fresh chopped parsley
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

INSTRUCTIONS

Place all the dressing ingredients into a mason jar. Add the lid and shake well to combine.

Other Favorite Summertime Salad Recipes

If you are looking for some other favorite side dishes to serve at your next picnic, barbecue or backyard gathering, be sure to try some of my other favorite recipes.

Enjoy! Mary

Small batch fudge recipe

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Zesty Italian Pasta Salad

featured Zesty Italian pasta salad

A quick, easy, and refreshing Pasta Salad recipe that is perfect for any crowd, any time of the year!

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 9 minutes
Inactive Time 4 hours
Total Time 4 hours 24 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 12 ounce box Rotini pasta
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 4 celery ribs, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 medium cucumber, diced
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 small sweet red pepper, diced
  • 8 ounces Zesty Italian dressing, more or less to taste

Instructions

  1. Cook pasta to al dente according to package instructions. Immediately drain and run cold water over the pasta to stop the cooking process. Set aside
  2. While the pasta is cooking cut up vegetables and set aside.
  3. Add cooked and cooled pasta to a large serving bowl. Add vegetables and pour the Zesty Italian dressing and toss to coat.
  4. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours for best results. Prior to serving stir well and add more Zesty Italian dressing per taste.

Notes

Homemade Italian Dressing Ingredients:
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 TBSP. red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp dry Italian seasoning
1 TBSP fresh chopped parsley
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Homemade Italian Dressing Instructions:

Place all the dressing ingredients into a mason jar. Add the lid and shake well to combine.

Other suggested recipe additions: sliced olives, cubed cheese, diced pepperoni, diced broccoli, baby spinach leaves

Recipe can be made 2 days in advance.

Recipe provided by Make Your Meals

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

10

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 122Total Fat: 5gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 246mgCarbohydrates: 16gFiber: 2gSugar: 4gProtein: 3g

Nutritional Information is to be used as a general guideline only . Nutritional calculations will vary from the types and brands of the products used.

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