Zesty Pasta Salad

5 from 3 votes
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Zesty Italian Pasta Salad has lots of texture from fresh crunchy vegetables and packed with flavor for homemade Italian dressing

White ceramic bowl with zesty pasta salad in it with Italian dressing on the side.
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Why Make This Zesty Italian Pasta

This pasta salad calls for fresh, crunchy, creamy, ingredients and homemade Italian dressing. When you make the dressing yourself, you get to control what goes in it! A lot of dressings have less desirable ingredients to make them last longer and more affordable.

Zesty Pasta Salad is loaded with flavors. Not only is the dressing a big part of that, the creamy feta, nutty parmesan and vinegar banana peppers give it a unique combination to crave.

This pasta salad comes together quickly! Have it ready to go in 30 minutes and serve guests, bring it to a potluck, barbecue or have it for a light lunch. I know you are going to love this recipe. Another few top rated pasta salads to try would be my BLT Pasta Salad and Dill Pickle Pasta Salad.

Ingredient Notes

Ingredients on a counter in small bowls to make a zesty Italian pasta salad.

Pasta. Use any shape of choice. I like to use Fusilli because it tends to hold more dressing and cheese in all the nooks and crannies, but you can use bow tie or penne!

Banana Peppers. These add a wonderful flavor to the salad, I use the hot variety but mild works great.

Bell Peppers. Use red or green (or both!) they add nutrients, crunch and color to the Zesty Italian Pasta.

Feta. Feta brings a tangy unique flavor to the salad and offers a creamy texture.

Italian Dressing. I use a homemade recipe (which you will find below in the recipe card). I use this dressing on several recipes like my Italian Wraps.

All other ingredients and measurements can be found in the recipe card towards the bottom of this post. 

Steps To Make Pasta Salad

Steps to make Zesty Italian Pasta salad in a large salad bowl with toppings.

Step One. Start with cooking the pasta. Cook according to the package and don’t forget to salt the water generously. While the pasta cooks, prepare all other ingredients.

Step Two. If you are making my homemade Italian Dressing, add all ingredients to a jar with a lid and give it a really good shake! taste it, add more salt/pepper/oil if needed for taste preferences. Set aside.

Step Three. Once pasta is al dente, drain the water and add it to a large serving bowl. Let it cool for a few minutes. Add in all the chopped ingredients, cheese, and cilantro. Pour 3/4ths of the dressing over the pasta and mix well!

Step Four. Once the salad is mixed, taste it and add more dressing if desired. Top with additional cilantro for garnish and avocado slices (just before serving!)

White ceramic bowl with zesty pasta salad in it with Italian dressing on the side. Bowls to the side.

Ingredient Substitutions and Variations

Pasta. Any shape of choice will work! Just note that some shapes won’t need as much time to cook.

Veggies. You can customize this salad! Take out any veggies you’d like or add more! Cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash, sun dried tomatoes and more all make great add-ins

Cheese. Swap feta for mozzarella if you want! Both taste great.

Protein. If you want to add protein, grilled or shredded chicken works great. Bacon and chopped salami will make a great add in.

Can this Zesty Italian Pasta be Make Ahead Of Time?

Yes! Make this salad a day ahead and add the dressing just before serving. This salad keeps wonderfully for a few days. If the pasta soaks up the dressing, no big deal you can just whip up some more or add a nice drizzle of olive oil to wet the noodles again.

Is Zesty Pasta Salad Served Cold Or Room temperature?

Either one is tasty. I prefer it fresh, at room temperature. The pasta soaks up the dressing if it’s chilled for a few hours so keep this in mind when serving!

The olive oil will solidify a tad in the fridge as its stored, so if making ahead (or serving again later) set it out at room temperature for 15 minutes or so and give it a good toss before serving to warm up the oil.

Recipe Tips

-Bring the Zesty Italian Pasta to room temperature before serving for the best texture!

-Taste the dressing as you go! You may want to add more dijon, salt or pepper.

-Don’t add all the dressing at once. Add 3/4ths of it and save the rest for just before serving. Pasta absorbs everything so keep this in mind.

-Add crispy bacon, salami or chicken to kick up the protein.

Italian Pasta Salad Pairings

This zesty pasta goes with so many things! I love bringing it as a side dish to barbecues. It pairs well with my Air Fryer Turkey Burgers, Turkey Smash Burgers, Lemon Pepper Wings, Crispy Chicken Sandwich.

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White ceramic bowl with zesty pasta salad in it with Italian dressing on the side. Up close photo.
5 from 3 votes

Zesty Italian Pasta

Zesty Italian Pasta Salad has lots of texture from fresh crunchy vegetables and packed with flavor for homemade Italian dressing.
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Total: 35 minutes
Servings: 8

Equipment

  • large mixing bowl or salad bowl

Ingredients 

  • 14 ounces dry fusilli pasta, *see notes
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup black olives, sliced
  • ½ cup red onion, diced
  • 1-2 small bell peppers
  • ½ cup banana peppers, diced
  • cup feta, crumbled
  • ¼ cup parmesan, grated
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped , *see notes
  • 1 small avocado, sliced , *optional for topping!

Italian dressing

  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbs water, *to thin the sauce
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • ½ tsp dried oregano
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1-2 tsp dijon mustard

Instructions 

  • Start with cooking the pasta. Cook according to the package and don't forget to salt the water generously. While the pasta cooks, prepare all other ingredients.
  • If you are making my homemade Italian Dressing, add all ingredients to a jar with a lid and give it a really good shake! taste it, add more salt/pepper/oil if needed for taste preferences. Set aside. 
  • Once pasta is al dente, drain the water and add it to a large serving bowl. Let it cool for a few minutes. Add in all the chopped ingredients, cheese, and cilantro. Pour 3/4ths of the dressing over the pasta and mix well!
  • Once the salad is mixed, taste it and add more dressing if desired. Top with additional cilantro for garnish and avocado slices (just before serving!) 

Notes

*this is just a little less than a full box. Cook the full box of pasta (16 oz) and take 1 cup of the cooked pasta out. You can leave it in if you want, but I prefer to take it out so the salad is more topping heavy.
*any pasta shape will work. I find that rotini/fusilli holds the most mix ins and dressing. 
*fresh parsley will also work. 
* if you don’t like dijon, use mayonnaise. 
To make vegan, skip the cheese or use a vegan alternative. 
This will keep in the fridge for up to 4 days in an airtight container. Bring to room temperature before serving for the best results. 

Nutrition

Serving: 1 cup of pasta | Calories: 268kcal | Carbohydrates: 20g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 19g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 12g | Cholesterol: 8mg | Sodium: 549mg | Potassium: 150mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 599IU | Vitamin C: 23mg | Calcium: 82mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Author: Bailey
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Course: Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Servings: 8
Calories: 268
Keyword: 30 minute, salad, summer
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Recipe Rating




4 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    This salad was so fresh and satisfying. I will definitely be making this for my next pot luck!

  2. 5 stars
    Delish and refreshing made a great side dish with our rotisserie

    1. So happy to hear this. Thanks so much for making it.