Classic pasta salad is made with a tri-color rotini, filled with vegetables and cheeses, and coated in a homemade vinaigrette. The perfect recipe to feed a crowd!
Pasta salad is a classic picnic recipe. What barbecue is complete without a batch of pasta salad that's large enough for a crowd?
You'll love this classic pasta salad recipe because it's quick, easy, and made from scratch. It's filled with rotini pasta, pepperoni, two kinds of cheeses, plenty of veggies, and a homemade vinaigrette dressing.
It also makes enough to feed 24 people or more. If you're looking to serve a smaller crowd, it's easy to cut the recipe in half by adjusting the 'servings' bar in the recipe card. You may also like our BLT pasta salad recipe - it serves 12.
Serve this pasta salad at your next family gathering, barbecue, picnic, or birthday party. This reader-favorite recipe is popular year round!
What should I put in pasta salad?
Pasta salad is made with tri-color rotini pasta, a homemade vinaigrette, and these flavorful additions:
- red onion
- bell pepper
- cherry tomatoes
- black olives
- cubed mozzarella cheese
- freshly shredded parmesan cheese
If there's an ingredient you don't have on hand, or don't care for, it can be omitted or swapped with a similar ingredient. Keep in mind, the more ingredients you remove, the more flavor you're potentially removing from your pasta salad!
Best pasta shape for pasta salad
You can't go wrong with any medium shaped, bite size pasta. These are my personal favorite pasta shapes for pasta salad:
To use a different shape, simply swap your pasta at a 1:1 ratio in weight. This recipe calls for 24 ounces of rotini, so any 24 ounces of dried pasta will make the same quantity.
Pasta salad tips and tricks
Here are my favorite tips and tricks for ensuring your pasta salad turns out perfectly every time!
- Choose the right pasta shape for your salad. Rotini (as pictured) is always a great choice. Any smaller, bite sized pasta works great in a pasta salad, like macaroni, orecchiette, and shells.
- Salt your pasta water - this helps flavor your pasta as it boils, adding extra flavor to your pasta salad.
- Set a timer when cooking your pasta. If your pasta cooks for too long, it will turn out mushy and soggy. Likewise, if your pasta doesn't cook quite long enough, it may still be a little firm or crunchy in the middle.
- Dress your pasta at room temperature - this gives your pasta a chance to soak up some of that dressing while it sets. Cold pasta won't soak up dressing like warm or room temperature pasta does.
- If making your own dressing, use the classic 3:1 ratio of oil to vinegar (as directed in the recipe card). Too much vinegar can make a pasta salad taste harsh and acidic.
- Not sure about making your own vinaigrette? Feel free to substitute with your favorite bottle of Italian dressing instead. If you know your family loves a particular dressing, use that instead. That way, you know you'll enjoy it!
What size pan do I need?
This pasta salad recipe will fit in a 9x13 pan or similarly sized large serving bowl. If you're looking to feed a smaller crowd, this recipe is easy to halve or quarter. Click on the servings in the recipe card and use the sliding bar.
Should pasta salad sit overnight?
I find that pasta salad tastes best if it's allowed to set for at least an hour in the refrigerator before serving. This allows the flavors to meld and improve.
I recommend serving pasta salad within a few hours of preparing because pasta continues to soak up your dressing as it sits.
However, pasta salad can be made up to 24 hours in advance. Cover tightly, refrigerate overnight, then allow your pasta to warm up slightly for about 20-30 minutes before serving. Give your salad a toss just before serving to redistribute any dressing that may have settled at the bottom.
How long does pasta salad last?
Your pasta salad will keep for 3-4 days in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
Pasta salad can be made up to a day before an event and stored in the refrigerator, and is best served within 24 hours for freshest flavor.
What to serve with pasta salad
Pasta salad is the perfect side dish for any summer event - barbecues, picnics, birthdays, or for enjoying all week long with lunch! Here are a few of my favorite main dish pairings:
- Hot dogs
- Oven roasted brats
- Fried chicken
- Grilled lemon pepper chicken
- Baked chicken drumsticks
- Cheesesteak style sloppy joes
- Pulled pork
- Crock pot Italian beef sandwiches
Classic Pasta Salad
- 24 ounces tri-color rotini pasta, uncooked
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
- 12 ounces sliced pepperoni
- 1 red onion, diced
- 1 green bell pepper, diced
- 16 ounces mozzarella cheese, cubed
- 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 8 ounces olives, sliced
- 1 ½ cups olive oil
- ½ cup red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- In salted boiling water, cook pasta according to package directions for al dente pasta. Drain and rinse with cold water until pasta is room temperature. Place pasta in a large bowl.
- Add cherry tomatoes, pepperoni, onion, bell pepper, mozzarella, parmesan, and olives to the bowl. Set aside.
- In a separate bowl, add olive oil, vinegar, italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Whisk to combine.
- Pour vinaigrette over pasta salad, then toss to coat. Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.
- If your pasta salad has been chilling for several hours/overnight and very cold, allow it to warm up slightly at room temperature for 20-30 minutes, then give it a toss to redistribute the dressing just before serving.
- Pasta salad is best served the same day for freshest flavor. Pasta will continue to soak up dressing as it sits.
- If your pasta salad has been sitting for a while and beginning to dry out, add a splash of olive oil and vinegar and toss to coat.
- Vinaigrette can be substituted with your favorite bottled Italian dressing.
- Leftovers will keep for 3-4 days in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator.
Awesome salad. I did add some cucumber to it.
Really tasty and excellent texture.
I use bow tie or small shell pasta, and good seasons zesty dry dressing. Follow directions for the oil and vinegar. Heinz apple cider vinegar and Wesson canola oil are the best. Also, I save some dressing for later when so much has been absorbed. Favorite salad any time of year.
Did you use the zesty dressing mix in place of all of the seasonings listed? How much?
Red wine vinegar was way overwhelming I was so disappointed in this recipe. Hate to waste this much food but it’s terrible. Will definitely use my own bottled Italian dressing next time
Hi Kelsey, I'm sorry to hear you didn't enjoy the recipe. This dressing uses the classic 3:1 ratio, 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar, to make a standard vinaigrette. Did you use 1 and 1/2 cups of oil and 1/2 cup of vinegar? You're definitely welcome to add less vinegar if you don't prefer this type of dressing, or swap it out with your favorite bottled dressing (as noted in the recipe card).
I made this for a baby shower at work and they absolutely loved it. They have asked me to make it again. Thank you for the amazing recipe. Only thing I did differently was salami instead of pepperoni and I used Kalamata olives. This will definitely be my go to from now on
Hi! We loved this recipe but found that the dressing solidified on the leftover salad while in the fridge. Is there a method to keep this from happening? I know that olive oil will quickly solidify but didn’t expect it to affect the salad.
Thanks for any advice!
Hi Michaella, I've never had this happen before, so I'm not sure what could have caused this! You could try whisking in 1-2 tablespoons of dijon mustard to your dressing before adding it to the pasta, which helps emulsify the dressing. Leftovers can be set out for about 30 minutes before serving to allow the olive oil to liquefy again.
How much does this feed
This recipe makes 24 servings.
Would it be okay to cook the pasta the night before, mix in all veggies (with the exception of tomatoes) & pepperoni the night before? And then the next morning make dressing and finish the salad?
Hi Susan, that should work just fine.
It was so good ! My favorite dressing now!
Caitlyn C King
Maybe I couldn't find it in the recipe, but about how much is one serving (1cup? 1/2 cups?) Thanks!
Hi Caitlyn, one serving of pasta salad will be about 3/4 cup!
Thank you! We will be making multiple batches of this for our wedding (self-catering), and we're trying to figure out the correct amount per person.
I make this all the time!! I use Genoa salami add jarred sun dried Tomatoes and canned artichokes. Paul Neuman family style Italian dressing.
Thanks for your comment. I was thinking about adding the exact same ingredients! I must say that the recipe is excellent as written.
Quick question- I just realized that the tri-colored pasta I bought is a bag of egg pasta is that ok? They didn’t have any boxed pasta left.
Hi Alex, egg pasta should work fine in this recipe!
Could you post this recipe in a smaller portion? Please and thank you! 😃
Hi Erin, if you hover over the serving size in the recipe card, you can adjust the servings to as many as you'd like to make!
How many ounces is a serving size
Hi Pam, I haven't weighed the entire finished pasta salad before, so I can't say for sure. The weight can vary slightly based on the ingredients used in your specific dish. I'd recommend weighing your entire salad and dividing by 24 for best accuracy!
Do you think it would work to put the cooked and cooled pasta together with the veggies and cheese a few hours in advance and then pour the vinaigrette on it an hour before serving? TYI
Yes, that should work just fine!
One of the best pasta salads I’ve ever eaten!
This dressing is my new go to for pasta salad. I usually just throw whatever veggies I have in the fridge in my salad, so I don’t follow a recipe for that. But this dressing is awesome. After making it a few times, I did add some Dijon mustard and lemon juice.
I made this last weekend for a cookout. I accidentally bought red cooking wine instead of red wine vinegar and didnt have time to run to the store before guests arrived. I substituted with balsamic vinegar and it had such good reviews!!! I can't wait to try it the correct way though. I just used a little less balsamic than and a little more olive oil so it wasn't to strong.
Glad you enjoyed the pasta salad, Marie!