Zesty Italian Pasta Salad | 20 minutes meal!

This zesty Italian pasta salad is loaded with fresh Mediterranean ingredients and drizzled with an amazing dressing made with olive oil, vinegar, and lemon. Prego!

Zesty Italian pasta salad on a bowl.

This salad is one of our favorites at home all year round. But in summer, the vegetables are so flavored and also very cheap that is easy to fall in love with salads like this. 

Here in Italy, people are used to buying and cooking seasonal food, especially if the recipe includes fresh products.

Pasta salad recipes are the most consumed in the summer season and you can see them often offered in restaurants and as a takeaway lunch every day. 

They’re called pasta fredda and there are a lot of versions with all kinds of vegetables, cold cuts, cheese, and other ingredients, like this tuna pasta fredda recipe.

A plate with ingredients for zesty Italian pasta salad.

Why Should You Make This Recipe

  • It is loaded with fresh veggies and tasty ingredients that you can enjoy with every bite.
  • It’s highly customizable, so you can add also other vegetables, cheese, or cold meats like ham, pepperoni, hot dog sausages, salami, etc.
  • Is versatile, you can serve it for a quick lunch, light dinner, or as a side for grilled meats.
  • Is budget-friendly. Since it uses seasonal produce, generally those vegetables are cheaper in summer.
  • It can be carried easily, making it perfect for potlucks or for lunch at the office.
  • It can be made ahead, so if you plan to do a cookout, prepare it the day before and let the flavors blend together, it will taste even better!

The Ingredients Needed

Those are the ingredients you’ll need for this zesty pasta salad. Feel free to add or replace some of them based on your taste and what you have on hand.

  • PASTA – I love fusilli (also known as rotini), they’re small and fun! But other types are also fine, like pennette, macaroni, etc.
  • FRESH TOMATOES – Cherry ones are pretty and very sweet in season, but you can also add diced fresh grape tomatoes.
  • CUCUMBERS – Add a nice fresh kick to the salad. Dice them or cut them into half-moons.
  • RED ONIONS – Are sweeter so this is my first option but you can add also white ones or anything you have in hand, even spring onions!
  • BELL PEPPERS – In summer bell peppers are delicious! Don’t skip them, add any kind you have available. For a colorful plate use tri-color, or just yellow and red.
  • OLIVES – I used Gaeta olives because they are so good and easy to find where I live, you can also substitute them, just make sure they’re pitted before adding them to the salad. Black olives are also a good sub.
  • ARTICHOKES – Used preserved in oil artichokes because they add a nice tangy flavor to this salad. 
  • Ricotta salata – This cheese is a dry version of the traditional ricotta (which is more fresh), here in Italy is easy to find but maybe not so much overseas. You can replace it with Feta cheese, mozzarella, or flakes of parmesan cheese if you want.
Onions and bell peppers cut on a cutting board and other vegetables needed for making Italian salad.

The Zesty Italian Dressing

I like to go as simple as I can. So, the traditional olive oil (extra virgin, of course) + vinegar + lemon + sweet + any herb I have, is my recipe to go. 

Sometimes I change the white vinegar for balsamic vinegar, that’s up to you. Is so easy to make your vinaigrette at home in just a few minutes!

Check below in the recipe card the ingredients I used for this amazing dressing and feel free to make your own version by adding your favorite herbs or spices. Sometimes I add a few spoonfuls of my cilantro lime crema and believe me, it is delicious!

A jar with the dressing ready.

How To Make Zesty Italian Pasta Salad

  1. Pasta: In a large pot, cook the pasta to al dente following the package directions. Add it to a large bowl and toss with a bit of olive oil to prevent it from sticking.
  2. Chop: All vegetables and add them to the bowl. You can cut them in any format you’d like.
  3. Dress: Place all the dressing ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake it until combined. 
  4. Mix: Drizzle the ingredients with the dressing and mix thoroughly to coat.
  5. Enjoy: As a lunch, easy dinner, or even as a side dish for grilled chicken.
Close-up of zesty Italian pasta salad.

Useful Notes and Tips

  • Chill your zesty Italian pasta salad a bit. Usually, cold pasta salads are chilled a couple of hours before serving.
  • Customize with whatever you have in your fridge or pantry, in Italy we like to call this type of salad svuota frigo, meaning ’empty fridge’ because they are perfect to use vegetables, cheese, and cold cuts that are sitting in your fridge for days.
  • You can make your version of pasta salad using gluten-free pasta, just remember that type of pasta doesn’t stay as soft as regular pasta for a long time after being cooked.
  • Do not rinse your pasta in an attempt to stop the cooking or to remove the starch. First, starch helps the dressing to absorb better and flavor the pasta, secondly, you can cook your pasta 1 minute less than the package suggests, so it will finish its cooking while cooling down.

What Can I Serve Italian Pasta Salad With?

Storage Recommendations

As I mentioned before, this recipe for zesty Italian pasta salad is perfect for bringing to potlucks, picnics, or to the office, so you can even prepare ahead and store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.

If you prefer the crunch of fresh lettuce, make sure you add it to the salad right before mixing it with the dressing. Chopped lettuce can last stored in a separate container for up to 3 days as well, or you can vacuum seal it in jars for longer.

Similar Recipes

Zesty italian pasta salad recipe.

Zesty Italian Pasta Salad

author Maricruz
This zesty Italian pasta salad is loaded with fresh Mediterranean ingredients and drizzled with an amazing dressing made with olive oil, vinegar & lemon. 
prep 10 minutes
cook 12 minutes
total 22 minutes
serving 6

Ingredients 

For salad

  • 12 ounces fusilli pasta (or penne, macaroni.)
  • 7 ounces cherry tomatoes (quartered)
  • 1 small red bell pepper (cut into thin strips)
  • 1 small yellow bell pepper (cut into thin strips)
  • 1 small red onion (thinly sliced)
  • 1 medium cucumber (cut into half-moons)
  • 1 small Romaine lettuce (chopped)
  • ½ cup Gaeta olives (pitted)
  • 1 cup artichoke packed in oil (drained and cut into wedges)
  • ½ cup ricotta salata or feta cheese (crumbled)

For dressing

  • cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 1 Tbsp fresh parsley (finely chopped)
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Instructions
 

  • Cook the pasta al dente in a large stockpot according to package instructions.
  • Drain and transfer to a bowl, add 1 tsp of olive oil, and mix well. Allow to cool down. 
  • Add all ingredients for the dressing to a jar and close with a tight-fitting lid.
  • Shake the jar vigorously to combine all ingredients.
  • Add the vegetables and cheese to the bowl.
  • Pour over the dressing and mix for a couple of minutes to nicely coat everything.
  • Serve immediately or chill for a couple of hours in the fridge before serving.

Notes

  • You can make your version of pasta salad using gluten-free pasta, just remember that type of pasta doesn’t stay as soft as regular pasta for a long time after being cooked.
  • Do not rinse your pasta in an attempt to stop the cooking or to remove the starch. First, starch helps the dressing to absorb better and flavor the pasta, secondly, you can cook your pasta 1 minute less than the package suggests, so it will finish its cooking while cooling down.
Nutrition Information
Serving: 1grams | Calories: 431kcal | Carbohydrates: 51g | Protein: 11g | Fat: 20g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 11g | Cholesterol: 11mg | Sodium: 843mg | Potassium: 363mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 1504IU | Vitamin C: 57mg | Calcium: 117mg | Iron: 2mg
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2 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Hey! I just wanted to comment here to let you know that I trully loved this pasta salad! Never cooked something like this and it’s the most easiest thing I’ve done! Used the regular ricotta (the first one I found) and it worked perfectly, not really anything else to cook besides the pasta so is very simple and refreshing!