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!
Ingredients and substitutions
- Pasta - Any medium sized pasta works in this recipe. I used rotini, but macaroni, orecchiette, or any medium pasta works when substituted at a 1:1 ratio by weight.
- Vegetables - Red onion, bell pepper, tomatoes, and olives are added for flavor and bulk. Feel free to omit or substitute any ingredients you don't prefer.
- Cheeses - I add cubed mozzarella cheese and freshly grated parmesan cheese for a salty, cheesy flavor. Feel free to use your favorite cheeses, like swiss, cheddar, or fresh mozzarella balls.
- Pepperoni - Can be omitted or substituted with your favorite sliced or cubed cured meat, like bacon pieces or cubed holiday ham.
- Vinaigrette ingredients - This recipe uses a classic vinaigrette ratio of 3:1 oil to vinegar. In addition to the oil and vinegar, you'll also need Italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. The vinaigrette can also be substituted with a 16 ounce bottle of your favorite Italian or vinaigrette dressing.
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!
Frequently asked questions
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.
Pasta salad is the perfect side dish for any summer event - barbecues, picnics, birthdays, or for enjoying all week long with lunch! A few of my favorite main dish pairings include hamburgers, hot dogs, oven roasted brats, fried chicken, grilled lemon pepper chicken, baked chicken drumsticks, or pulled pork.
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.
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.
You can't go wrong with any medium shaped, bite size pasta. Rotini, macaroni, orecchiette, shells, or rotelle are my favorites. 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.
Yes, click on the serving size in the recipe card. A sliding bar will pop up and allow you to change the servings made by the recipe. To cut in half, change the servings to 12 instead of 24.
This recipe makes a traditional vinaigrette recipe that's made with 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. If you don't like vinaigrette dressings, you may not enjoy this dressing. It doesn't have added sweeteners like many store bought dressings do. If you know you won't enjoy a vinaigrette dressing, feel free to use your favorite bottled store bought dressing instead. While preparing your dressing, a tablespoon of honey or granulated sugar could also be added to contrast with the tangy flavor of the vinegar.
No, this is normal. If your refrigerator is very cold, there's a chance that the olive oil will solidify when chilled. Allow your pasta salad to warm up a bit on the counter top before serving and the olive oil will melt.
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.