Classic Pasta Salad

CATEGORIES: Italian, Kate, Salads

I can’t even begin to tell you how often I’m asked if I have a pasta salad recipe. A lot. I think one of the problems I’ve had with making pasta salad (potato salad, too) is that it’s really, really hard to make it really flavorful and yummy. I remember when I first started working at Kneaders (a fabulous little sandwich shop in Utah), their pasta salad looked so very yummy and I tried a bite, only to be seriously disappointed. That’s not to knock Kneaders–I ate there at least 3 1/2 times a week during my last pregnancy. Pasta salad just isn’t their thing (at least in my opinion) and it’s because of the lackluster flavor.

Well, not only is this recipe super-easy, but it’s got lots and lots of vinegary, garlicky Italian flavor. Pretty much all due to the dressing. Now…I made a very sad discovery the other day when I was getting ready to make this. They don’t sell Bernstein’s Italian dressing where I live. And a bottle of Newman’s was almost $4, which I’d be okay with if anyone except me was going to be eating this because my husband doesn’t eat pasta salad. If you’re an avid reader, you may wonder what my husband DOES eat. That is an excellent question, one I don’t have all the answers to myself. I know he eats Crunch Berries cereal. Colby Jack cheese. Green peppers. Ekte Gjeitost. Oh, and I put a can of potted meat food product in his Christmas stocking every year because it’s one of his favorite foods. No joke. Tangent over.

Anyway, first choice? Bernstein’s. Second? Newman’s. Third? You can whip up your own dressing, and it really is good. I didn’t take pics because I made it a few days ago, not knowing I’d need it for the blog. The other key ingredient is 2 bags of that spiral pasta with veggies like corn, broccoli, and carrots, usually with a creamy garlic sauce that you find in the freezer section of your friendly neighborhood grocery store. You’re not actually doing the whole creamy garlic sauce thing, but some of the flavor will inevitably infuse itself into the pasta while you’re cooking it and that’s not a bad thing.

Oh, and the recipe calls for zucchini, but there are none in the picture because every single grocery store within a 10-mile radius was out of zucchini. Seriously. Okay, not seriously. I actually forgot the zucchini (gasp!) and while I was assembling the salad, I was looking at all the pretty colors, thinking, “Wow…this needs something green.” And then I remembered. I’m telling you this cautionary tale so you DON’T forget, because not only is it beautiful in this total show-stopper of a salad, but it tastes fabulous after it marinades in the Italian dressing for a day or so.

Anyway, pasta salad is always a huge hit at parties, especially hot parties in the middle of summer. And goodness knows, there are NO upcoming holidays that may include large groups of people getting together to eat in the dead of summer! 🙂

Classic Pasta Salad

2 bags frozen mixed pasta and veggies (I use Bird’s Eye)
2 small zucchini, halved and sliced
1 pint grape tomatoes, washed
1 can olives, drained
1 8oz package of pepperoni, halved or quartered
1 small red onion, halved and vertically sliced or diced
About 6-8 medium mushrooms, sliced
1 16 oz bottle Italian dressing (preferably Bernstein’s, possibly Newman’s, use your own if you need to)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add frozen pasta and veggies. Bear in mind that these have already been partially cooked, so they do not need to cook very long–maybe 3-4 minutes. The ONLY way to ruin this salad is to cook the pasta too long. Drain and rinse. Allow to cool.

In a large bowl, combine zucchini, grape tomatoes, olives, pepperoni, red onion, and mushroom slices. Add pasta and veggies. Toss to combine. Add Italian dressing and combine thoroughly. Chill for at least 4 hours or up to 3-4 days. Serves 10-12.

1 c. canola oil
1/4 c. white vinegar
1/4 c. lemon juice
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. seasoning salt
3/4 tsp. Italian seasoning (add more if needed)
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. black pepper
4 cloves garlic
1/3 c. Parmesan cheese (either fresh or from a can)

In a blender, combine vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, mustard, salt, seasoning salt, black pepper, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Blend. While blender is running, slowly add oil in a steady stream. Turn off blender and add Italian seasoning and Parmesan cheese. Pulse blender 2-3 times and that’s it!


  1. Ekte Gjeitost? He must have some connection with Scandinavia? I love your blog – especially the pictures – and it makes me SO HUNGRY at work!!!!

  2. Megan–hahaha, wow! Someone knows what it is! 🙂 No, he served his mission in Norway. Which is also why he likes potted food meat product–he thinks it kind of tastes like pate that he had there.

  3. Before you said it, I was seriously thinking, “What *does* that guy eat??” lol. Strange, with him being married to such a fabulous cook! Funny guy.

    Pasta looks great. And what’s up with the south? So Aloha shoyu OR Bernsteins?? Maybe we need to forget our blog and open a store down there!

  4. I have been wanting to try this pasta salad. I have to agree that usually most pasta salads look better than they taste. I’ll have to try it and let ya know.

  5. I could not find the Birds Eye veggies with pasta anywhere! Can you give us an idea of what you would do without it? (How you would blanch/cook the vegetables, how much spiral pasta, etc) Thanks!

  6. Heidi, ironically I just finished making this and I had the same problem with not being able to find the pasta and veggies!

    So instead I just used a regular 1 lb box of spiral tri-color pasta and added 1 C sliced carrots right in the pot with the pasta. In the last 2 minutes of boiling I added in 1 C of fresh broccoli florets (frozen would work fine too). After 2 the two minutes I immediately ran the pasta and veggies under cold water and then proceeded with the recipe as written. Worked great!

    1. Can you add these notes to the actual recipe. I’ve used this a couple of times, and keep having to search the comments to find what to do since I can’t find the frozen pasta/veggies.


  7. Thanks for the tip- I made it doing basically what you said- it was pretty good and got good reviews. Unfortunately, I am still not a pasta salad sort of gal- it's just not my thing. The one thing I would definitely change is to use turkey pepperoni instead of the regular- it got weird after being in the salad overnight and tasted like yucky cold fat (with good pepperoni flavor, of course) I think you get all the benefits without the fat with the turkey pepperoni. I love your site! You have no idea how much I turn to it when making something in the kitchen now! I tell everyone about you!

  8. I know you posted this a long time ago, but in my search for edible side dishes for an EXTREMELY picky family (husband) I came across it. Just wanted to say what a relief to know someone can sympathize with the agony of planning meals around a husband who eats like another toddler…maybe worse. Thanks for the tangent.

  9. A friend recently asked me to bring pasta salad for the lunch after her son’s baptism. My husband, part Italian, think pasta salads are an insult to pasta. So I had never made pasta salad. Thank heavens you had a recipe. It turned out delicious. My husband said “it isn’t bad” which means it is good. I forgot to buy zucchini, so I substituted peeled, seeded cucumbers; which was fresh tasting. The next time I make it (and there will be a next time :)) I’ll try it with salami instead of pepperoni.

  10. Also, thanks for your suggestions in the comments since I couldn’t find the frozen stuff out here. And! I had no idea Bernsteins dressing is only a western (?) brand. I grew up on that, but make only homemade dressings for salads now (see Italian husband comment above). I used Newmans Own for the pasta salad and it was great. I am excited to try your homemade Italian dressing recipe. I’ve pinned it for later!

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