Classic pasta salad is delectable, but how about one with a bit of a zesty kick? My zesty Italian pasta salad is dressed in a mildly spicy tomato-basil vinaigrette, and tossed with grilled chicken, strips of dried salami, artichoke hearts, olives, plus a sprinkle of pine nuts and parmesan for a deliciously zippy take on pasta salad!
Pasta Salad with a Zesty, Italian Twist
Light, refreshing pasta salads in the warmer months of spring and summer bring such a terrific pop of “brightness” to meal time.
Whether enjoyed as light lunch or dinner, or even as a mid-day snack to curb the rumblings of a hungry belly, pasta salad is a real treat.
And the best part? The possibilities are endless when it come to the flavor profile and ingredients added in!
One of our favorite types of pasta salad is one filled with bold, zesty and bright flavors, with a bit of a spicy kick.
Enter my zesty Italian pasta salad recipe, brimming with all of the above in each and every bite-full...
I'm talking tender strips of grilled chicken, bits of savory-salty dried salami, chunks of artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives, pine nuts and thin shavings of parmesan cheese.
For the dressing I've created a quick and easy homemade tomato-basil vinaigrette that's a little bit spicy and whole lot flavorful!
So if your usual pasta salad recipe could use a little makeover, this zesty Italian pasta salad is definitely a terrific pick for your recipe tin!
My Zesty Italian Pasta Salad Recipe with Spicy Tomato-Basil Vinaigrette
While there is an abundance of big flavors in this zesty Italian pasta salad recipe, I like keeping the presentation a bit delicate.
For this, I'm opting for bow tie pasta that's light and tender, perfectly coated in the vinaigrette.
I'm also keeping the strips of chicken small, as well as the dried salami, Kalamata olives and artichoke hearts. I like to just sprinkle in the delicately shaved paremesan, pine nuts and flourish of fresh basil at the end.
The spicy tomato-basil vinaigrette has really delicious sweet, savory and bright notes to it, and with a little pinch of red pepper flakes, creates some of the “fieriness”, or bite, in this zesty Italian pasta salad.
Here's a sneak peek at my zesty Italian pasta salad recipe: (or just jump to the full recipe...)
- To get started, I prepare my spicy tomato-basil vinaigrette, and set that aside.
- Next, I cook my bow tie pasta according to the package instructions, then drain and rinse in cold water, and set aside.
- While the pasta cooks, I grill (or sear) my chicken tenderloins, then slice those thinly to have ready.
- To assemble my zesty Italian pasta salad, I toss all of the salad ingredients gently together in a large bowl, and if serving immediately, I toss with my tomato-basil vinaigrette and serve. If serving a bit later, I keep my dressing and salad separate (chilled in the fridge), then toss together just before serving for freshest flavor and texture.
Zesty Italian Pasta Salad
by Ingrid Beer
This zesty Italian pasta salad is tossed with a spicy tomato-basil vinaigrette, plus dried salami, grilled chicken, artichokes and olives!
Yield: Serves 4
Nutrition Info: 879 calories per serving
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
Zesty Italian Pasta Salad Ingredients:
- 8 ounces uncooked bow-tie pasta
- 1 pound chicken breast tenderloins
- Olive oil
- Black pepper
- 4 ounces Italian dry salami, sliced into strips
- 1 cup artichoke hearts, chopped (use either marinated, or frozen and thawed)
- ¼ (heaping) cup pitted Kalamata olives, sliced
- ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
- ¼ cup julienned fresh basil leaves
- ½ (scant) cup shaved parmesan cheese
Spicy Tomato-Basil Vinaigrette Ingredients:
- 2 tablespoons, plus ½ cup, olive oil, divided use
- 2 cups tiny, sugar plum tomatoes, halved
- 6 large cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
- Cracked black pepper
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (more or less, depending on how spicy you like things)
- ¼ cup julienned fresh basil leaves
- ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
- Begin by gathering and prepping all of the tomato-basil vinaigrette ingredients according to the ingredient list above to have ready and organized for use.
- To prepare the vinaigrette, place a small, non-stick pan over medium-low heat, and add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in. Once hot, add in the halved sugar plum tomatoes, the garlic, a couple of generous pinches of salt and pepper, the Italian seasoning and the red pepper flakes, and gently saute the tomatoes just until they begin to break down and soften, about 2 minutes.
- Add the sauteed tomatoes directly into the bowl of a food processor, and add in the remainder of the ingredients, except for the remaining ½ cup of olive oil. Pulse a few times to blend, then drizzle in the olive oil with the processor running, just until well blended and fairly smooth.
- Check the salt/pepper level to see if you need to add more, then transfer the vinaigrette to a container and keep in fridge until ready to toss with salad and serve.
- Next, gather and prep all of your pasta salad ingredients according to the ingredient list above to have ready and organized for use.
- To prepare the pasta salad, cook the bow tie pasta according to the instructions on the package, then drain and rinse under cold water.
- While the pasta cooks, season the chicken breast tenderloins with a bit of salt and pepper, then place a non-stick grill pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Drizzle in a bit of olive oil, then grill or sear the tenderloins for a couple of minutes per side, or until cooked through. Slice into thin strips when cool enough to handle.
- If serving the zesty Italian pasta salad immediately, toss the cooled bow tie pasta with the slices of grilled chicken, salami, artichoke hearts, olives, pine nuts, and julienned basil, then drizzle in as much of the tomato-basil vinaigrette as you'd like (start with about half of it) and toss once more to combine. Add to serving bowls or plates, then top with shaved parmesan, and serve.
- If serving the pasta salad later, keep the vinaigrette and salad ingredients separate and chilled in the fridge. When ready to toss and serve, follow the instructions in the above step.
Tips & Tidbits for my Zesty Italian Pasta Salad recipe:
- Bow tie pasta, or your favorite variety: I really like the delicate shape and texture of bow tie (or farfalle) pasta in this recipe, but feel free to use your favorite type. Other great options are corkscrew pasta, penne pasta, or other fun, whimsical shapes that are small and easy to eat.
- Rotisserie chicken for convenience: While I'm using simple chicken tenderloins and quickly grilling or searing them, you can use good quality rotisserie chicken and chop it into small, bite-size pieces for convenience. Leftover chicken breasts a great here, too, or even leftover roasted chicken.
- Dress the pasta salad just before serving to keep things fresh: If you prefer to toss this zesty Italian pasta salad with the tomato-basil vinaigrette and then keep it in the fridge, you can absolutely do that and have it be delicious. But if you plan on serving it later, I recommend keeping the vinaigrette separate and then tossing it with the pasta salad just before serving to keep all of the ingredients extra vibrant and fresh (especially helpful if you're taking this salad to work for lunch).
Cook's Note: This recipe was originally published in 2013, and has been updated with even more love!