This bright and tangy Italian pasta salad with sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, salami, peas, and a splash of red wine vinaigrette is my new personal favorite to keep on hand!
Italian Pasta Salad, a Cool and Refreshing, Easy Go-To Meal
The warmer months lend themselves beautifully to light, fresh meals that are on the cool side, and I like to take advantage of that.
A nice salad on the ready as a light lunch or dinner allows me to not have to cook quite as often during the course of a busy week—let me tell you, I sure do appreciate that!
Pasta salad is great option when a cool and refreshing, easy go-to meal is what you're looking for.
While I enjoy creamy pasta salads like this delicate Summer Macaroni Salad, or this Macaroni Salad with Spring Vegetables, I personally tend to favor the more tangy, vinaigrette-based recipes, ones such as this Italian pasta salad with a few savory and delicious add-ins.
The flavors of a classic antipasto—those bites of dry salami, olives, mozzarella, basil, sun-dried tomato and the like—have always appealed to me. So I created this recipe using those basic ingredients, all tossed together with tender pesto-filled tortellini and a zesty red wine vinaigrette.
It's so deliciously lively and flavorful, and just perfect to keep in the fridge for several days to tuck into whenever craving something light, yet satisfying!
A Delicious Italian Pasta Salad Needs a Delicious Pasta Salad Dressing
While any pasta salad gets it's flavor from the tasty little elements you add into it, it gets its zingy "pop" from a good dressing.
And in my humble little opinion, it's the dressing that can make or break a pasta salad, and this Italian pasta salad comes alive with a base of red wine vinegar and olive oil.
For my zippy pasta salad dressing, I like to use one part red wine vinegar to two parts olive oil, and then load it up with a few other ingredients for a deeper flavor.
Some of my favorite ingredients are garlic (I like to go a little heavier on that for more “oomph”), dried herbs, a tiny hint of parmesan, and a sprinkle of sugar just to balance things out.
Just these few simple ingredients make a difference in the flavor of the dressing, creating a little more complexity in each and every bite.
And to make it easy on myself, I just toss all of the main ingredients into my food processor, turn it on, and slowly drizzle in my olive oil, whirling everything up together until well-emulsified.
This dressing is one that any pasta salad recipe could benefit from, for sure!
Tips & Tidbits for Italian Pasta Salad:
- Prep your dressing ahead: You can very easily prepare your vinaigrette dressing a day or two ahead of time, and keep it cold in the fridge until you're ready to use it.
- Substituting vinegars: I love the flavor of red wine vinegar for this Italian pasta salad, but you could also substitute white wine vinegar, balsamic, or even apple cider vinegar.
- Olive oil for more flavor: A good olive oil adds extra richness and flavor to the dressing for this salad, but feel free to use avocado, or even canola, in a pinch.
- Type of pasta: Mini tortellini pasta with pesto is my preferred pick for this salad (and I get mine at Trader Joes—it's in the dry pasta section, in a bag); but you can easily substitute the regular size tortellini, or cheese-filled ones (and omit the mozzarella in the recipe), found in the refrigerated section of the market with the other fresh pastas.
- For a vegetarian option: To make this pasta salad vegetarian, leave out the salami and use only the veggies and cheese—it's still just as delicious!
Feast your eyes on these, or just jump to the recipe:
Italian Pasta Salad Recipe
by Ingrid Beer
Yield: Serves 8
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes (pasta cooking time)
• ¼ cup red wine vinegar
• 4 cloves garlic
• 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (dry herbs)
• 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• 1 teaspoon salt
• ½ teaspoon black pepper
• ½ cup olive oil
Pasta Salad Ingredients:
• 1 pound (16 ounces) pesto-filled tortellini (or your choice of pasta)
• 8 ounces diced, fresh mozzarella
• ½ cup peas
• ½ cup julienned sun-dried tomatoes (patted dry if packed in oil)
• ¼ cup pitted black olives, sliced (I like Kalamata)
• 4 ounces dry Italian salami, chopped or sliced
• 1 (2 ounce) package fresh basil, stems removed, leaves julienned (finely sliced) or torn
• 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
--Prepare the vinaigrette by adding all of the ingredients up to and including the black pepper into your food processor, and process for about 30 seconds to blend; with the processor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the vinaigrette is well emulsified and blended; add to a glass dressing bottle or pour into a dish, and set aside. (Can be made ahead and refrigerated.)
-Cook your pasta according to the package instructions, just until al dente; once cooked, strain and run under cold water to stop the cooking process and to cool the pasta down.
-Add the cooled pasta to a large bowl, along with the diced mozzarella, peas, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and salami, and pour in some of the dressing (start slow and add more as needed); toss to coat, check your seasoning to see if any additional salt/pepper is needed (or more dressing), and then sprinkle in the basil and chopped parsley, and gently toss; check to see if any additional salt/pepper is needed.
-Serve immediately, or keep cold in the fridge for later.