This Pasta Salad is a bite from my childhood. It is overflowing with vegetables and reminds me of springtime and grilling with my parents. It is light enough for a hot day and is bursting with so much flavor.
I took my mom’s pasta salad recipe that we all love (just ask my Aunt Liz!) and added extra veggies to it. It always has the staples – tri-color rotini pasta, tomatoes, peas, black olives, artichokes, and Ken’s Italian dressing (the dressing is key), but over the years, I have added broccoli and carrots to it, and we love it!
Our trick to good cold pasta salad that lasts a long time is NOT drowning it in dressing until it is ready to be served. A light coating of olive oil and a little bit of dressing will keep the pasta from getting dry while also keeping it from getting soggy. Pour dressing all over it right before serving or let your guests dress it themselves and choose how much dressing they want!
Table of Contents
- 🥘 Ingredients Needed
- 🍽 Equipment Needed
- 🥣 How to Make Pasta Salad
- 🍱 Recipe Yield
- 🍳 How to Serve Cold Pasta Salad
- 🍝 Pasta Salad Variations
- 🥫 How to Store Leftover Pasta Salad
- ✏️ Pasta Salad Recipe Tips &
- Mistakes to Avoid When Making Pasta Salad
- 🙋♀️ Frequently Asked Questions
- 🍔 What Goes with Cold Pasta Salad?
- 🥗 Other Summer Side Dishes
- Easy Pasta Salad (Mom’s Recipe) Recipe
🥘 Ingredients Needed
- Rotini Pasta – You can use other kinds of pasta – I just grew up with rotini, and pasta salad just isn’t pasta salad with any other pasta. I love to use a full 12-ounce box of Tri-Color rotini (cheaper at the store) and half of a 16-ounce box of regular rotini (also cheaper in the store.) (You can make this gluten-free by using my favorite gluten-free pasta – Banza Chickpea Pasta.)
- Broccoli Florets – Broccoli is optional, but it is so good!
- Diced Carrots
- Black Olives – I don’t love olives, but my husband does, so I add them. If your family doesn’t like them, you can leave them out.
- Cherry Tomatoes – I like to slice them in half.
- Frozen Peas
- Artichoke Hearts (in Water) – I like to just use artichoke hearts in water as the ones that are marinated come with their own dressing and I like to keep it simple. It is even easier if you get them quartered in water – they are very easy to dice up that way.
- Olive Oil
- Italian Salad Dressing – Ken’s Italian Dressing makes this salad what it is. I have made this pasta salad with homemade Italian dressing and I have also used the Italian Dressing from Aldi – but Ken’s is the winner every time. (I recommend getting it at the grocery store so that you don’t have to buy 9 bottles at one time!)
🍽 Equipment Needed
- A large pot (for cooking pasta)
- A cutting board and a sharp knife
- A colander
- A spoon or rubber spatula (for stirring and combining everything)
- A large baking sheet (for cooling the pasta)
- A HUGE bowl – I use the biggest version of this nesting bowl set from the Pioneer Woman. It is the perfect size and it has a lid.
🥣 How to Make Pasta Salad
Cold pasta salad is so easy to make.
First, cook pasta as directed on the box. (Pictures 1 – 2) When there are two minutes left in the cooking time, add the broccoli florets and diced carrots to blanch them. (Pictures 3 – 5)
When the pasta is cooked (a little al dente) strain the pasta, broccoli, and carrots – then rinse with cold water. (Pictures 6 – 7)
Spread the pasta, broccoli, and carrots out on a baking sheet with edges and drizzle with a little olive oil. (Pictures 8 – 9) Toss to fully coat the pasta and now leave it to cool. (Picture 10) If you are in a time crunch, you can pop it in the refrigerator (10 – 15 minutes) or freezer (5 minutes.)
When the pasta has cooled, add it to a large bowl. (Picture 11) Add the tomatoes, olives, artichokes, and peas and toss to combine. (Picture 12 – 14)
Pour ½ cup of dressing over the salad and toss to coat all the pasta lightly. (Picture 15) Cover and refrigerate until serving.
Top with remaining dressing right before serving or allow your guests to dress their own.
🍱 Recipe Yield
This recipe makes 20 cups of pasta salad. If each person eats 1 cup or less, this recipe will easily serve 10 people. If you are anything like our family, it will probably only serve five people.
This recipe can be doubled or tripled if you need to serve it to a large group!
🍳 How to Serve Cold Pasta Salad
Serve this pasta salad with Italian Salad Dressing (we recommend Ken’s Italian) and keep it cold. It will be okay sitting on a table at a picnic for a few hours, but I recommend keeping it refrigerated when possible.
🍝 Pasta Salad Variations
- Chicken Pasta Salad – Add cooked diced chicken to the pasta salad to make it a meal. I like to make the chicken in my Instant Pot.
- Italian Pasta Salad – Add diced pepperoni, salami, assorted cheeses, etc. to make a different spin on the cold pasta salad.
🥫 How to Store Leftover Pasta Salad
Store cold pasta salad in an airtight container in the fridge. Preferably only coated with oil and a splash of dressing. For maximum freshness (and minimum sogginess), add the dressing only right before serving.
✏️ Pasta Salad Recipe Tips &
Mistakes to Avoid When Making Pasta Salad
- Dressing the pasta salad too early. If the dressing sits on the pasta salad for too long, it will get absorbed and will make the pasta really soggy. Ew.
- Not using the right type of pasta. When it comes to picking a pasta for your pasta salad, there are a lot of choices. The size and shape of the pasta actually does matter when making this summery side dish. I would avoid fresh pasta – it doesn’t hold up as well and will get mushy and gross. Also, while linguine and spaghetti are delicious, pasta salad isn’t really the dish to use them in. I prefer pastas like rotini, farfalle, and radiatore – lots of nooks and crannies for the dressing to seep into.
- Overcooking or undercooking the pasta. Cold pasta salad is going to sit for a bit and also has to be so easily “stabbable” with a fork – forkable? I like to cook the pasta until it is al dente – if it is overcooked, it will fall apart and get mushy.
🙋♀️ Frequently Asked Questions
You want to use a pasta that has a lot of nooks and crannies and little ridges for dressing to hide. (Don’t use spaghetti, linguine, etc.) I love rotini best, but have also used bowties and that worked great!
Pasta salad is mostly just a starch with a few vegetables mixed in it, so you’ll want to serve it with some kind of protein. Hamburgers, Sandwiches, Fried Chicken, Grilled Chicken, or Hotdogs would all be great options.
Making cold pasta salad is the only time you should ever rinse your pasta. Rinsing the pasta with cold water helps to stop the cooking process and will help it to cool down faster.
The best dressing for pasta salad is Ken’s Italian Dressing. Hands down. Other Italian dressings come close, but Ken’s is by far the best.
Cold pasta salad can be made the day before, but I wouldn’t go much beyond one day ahead of time. I will eat it for at least a week – but the pasta will get a little hard and dry over time, so ideally, you want to eat it right away.
Drain the pasta, spread it out on a cooking sheet, drizzle a single layer of extra-virgin olive oil over it and allow it to cool. Spreading it out on the cooking sheet allows it to cool quickly and prevents it from overcooking and the olive oil will keep the pasta from sticking.
When using rotini, 1/2 cup of dry pasta will make about 1 cup of cooked pasta.
🍔 What Goes with Cold Pasta Salad?
Pasta salad is mostly just a starch with a few vegetables mixed in it, so you’ll want to serve it with some kind of protein.
Have You Tried This Recipe?
Please rate it and leave a comment below. I would love to hear what you think!
Easy Pasta Salad (Mom’s Recipe)
- a stock pot or a gumbo pot
- a strainer or colander
- a baking sheet
- ½ 16 ounce box rotini pasta
- 1 12 ounce box tri-color rotini pasta
- 4 cups broccoli florets
- 1 large carrot diced
- 1 12 ounce bag frozen peas
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes cut in half
- 1 cup artichoke hearts quartered in water, sliced and diced
- ½ cup black olives sliced (add more if you like them)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 16 ounce bottle Ken's Italian Dressing
- Cook pasta as directed on the box. When there are two minutes left in the cooking time, add the broccoli florets and diced carrots to blanch them.½ 16 ounce box rotini pasta, 1 12 ounce box tri-color rotini pasta
- When the pasta is cooked (a little al dente) strain the pasta, broccoli, and carrots – then rinse with cold water.4 cups broccoli florets, 1 large carrot
- Spread the pasta, broccoli, and carrots out on a baking sheet with edges and drizzle with a little olive oil. Toss to fully coat the pasta and now leave it to cool. If you are in a time crunch, you can pop it in the refrigerator (10 – 15 minutes) or freezer (5 minutes.)2 tablespoons olive oil
- When the pasta has cooled, add it to a large bowl. Add the tomatoes, olives, artichokes, and peas and toss to combine.1 12 ounce bag frozen peas, 2 cups cherry tomatoes, 1 cup artichoke hearts, ½ cup black olives
- Pour ½ cup of dressing over the salad and toss to coat all the pasta lightly.
- Cover and refrigerate until serving.
- Top with remaining dressing right before serving or allow your guests to dress their own.1 16 ounce bottle Ken's Italian Dressing
🔢 Recipe YieldThis recipe makes 20 cups of pasta salad. If each person eats 1 cup or less, this recipe will easily serve 10 people. If you are anything like our family, it will probably only serve five people.
What Goes with Cold Pasta Salad?Pasta salad is mostly just a starch with a few vegetables mixed in it, so you’ll want to serve it with some kind of protein. Hamburgers, sandwiches or wraps, fried chicken tenders, fried shrimp, or hotdogs would all be great options. I have another blog post with tons of options for what to serve with pasta salad.
🥫 How to Store Leftover Pasta SaladStore cold pasta salad in an airtight container in the fridge. Preferably only coated with oil and a splash of dressing. For maximum freshness (and minimum sogginess), add the dressing only right before serving.
Nutrition information is approximate and is automatically calculated, so should only be used as a guide.